ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — City of St. Petersburg police and civilian officials want to show residents they were listening to calls for police reform following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis earlier this year.
On Thursday, they introduced a major new initiative springing from those calls for change - the creation of the Community Assistance Liaison team within the police department.
What You Need To Know
- Program to begin October 1
- Department will hire to fill this new unit, instead of hiring 25 new traditional officers
- Proposal has support of City government, area police union
- More Pinellas County stories
"Today we’re here to talk about change," said Chief Anthony Holloway. "And change is coming to the St. Pete Police Department."
As Holloway and Mayor Rick Kriseman explained, the Community Assistance Liaison team, or CAL Team, would be trained to respond to a variety of situations that get called into 911, such as mental health issues and drug overdoses.
"We’re asked sometimes to help someone raise their kid, or has a mental issue," he explained. "Yes we go through a lot of training, but we don’t have enough. We’re not experts in that."
Specifically, CAL Team members will, starting October 1, respond to calls involving the following situations:
- Disorderly intoxication
- Drug overdose
- Intoxicated person
- Mental health crisis
- Suicide crisis
- Mental Health Transport
- Disorderly juvenile/truancy
- Disorderly Juvenile at Elementary Schools
- Homeless complaints
- Neighborhood dispute
Last year, St. Petersburg Police received nearly 13,000 calls for those kinds of situations. The move to have CALs take over the handling of those calls, freeing police officers to handle law enforcement duties they're specifically trained for, has the support of this region's police union, the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association.
"We believe this will reduce strain in police resources, reduce risks to our member officers, and better outcomes for our most vulnerable citizens that we serve," said union spokesperson Jonathan Vasquez.
Funding for the new unit will come from a federal grant originally earmarked for the hiring of 25 new traditional police officers in St. Pete over the next two years.
Currently, Holloway envisions there will be between 15 and 20 CALs hired that will work from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.
In addition, the creation of the new unit is just the beginning of changes coming to the department. According to Holloway, the agency is looking at reforms from "top to bottom," including examining the possibility of more de-escalation training, adding a civilian to their hiring board, and stepping up walking patrols.
Kriseman said using the funding in this manner is a step in the right direction.
"While this is not a police dept with a bloated budget, or one with frivolous toys, it is one that can continue to get even better," he said.