Beginning with a warm introduction from Dr. Tashika Griffith, Associate Provost at SPC Midtown where the event was hosted, the Chamber’s sixth coffee chat of the year was with Police Chief Holloway. Sponsored by Tucker/Hall, Coffee Chats offer an opportunity for Chamber members and elected officials to have an informal conversation at member business locations.
The St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD) has had a fantastic year with crime at the lowest it has been in the past 16 years. Anticipating a move into its new building by February of 2019, the organization has a full roster of officers that has enabled it to close recruiting for the first time in recent history. It is to be noted that connecting with citizens over coffee is nothing new for Chief Holloway—SPPD hosts two “Coffee with a Cop” events each month.
In an effort to reduce auto theft, a state-wide epidemic, SPPD has instituted what it calls the “Second Chance Program”. This program offers every child that commits a crime an opportunity to avoid getting a criminal record by doing several hours of community service and developing a plan with a social worker to avoid reoffending. The program has been immensely successful, with 90% of participants not reoffending.
When asked about the importance of diversity at the police department, Chief Holloway shared that with a staff that looks like community it serves, SPPD has surpassed its diversity goals. He also remarked that “everyone should be able to work everywhere,” elaborating that he is committed to creating an environment where any officer can patrol any part of the city. SPPD promotes inclusivity by, among other things, conducting diversity training and encouraging officers to connect with members of the communities they serve.
When asked what protocols SPPD has in place to prevent events like those that took place in Ferguson from happening, Chief Holloway shared that young officers are required to go through ongoing training—including simulator training—and that the SPPD’s policies are designed to ensure all people are treated with respect. An example of one of these policies is that when people ask for a Sergeant, officers are required to call for one.
To combat petty crimes that take place with increased frequency when school is out, SPPD has hired seven civilian crime analysts that help the organization allocate its resources with great efficiency. Emphasizing the key role that civilian reporting plays in reducing these crimes, Chief Holloway encouraged those in attendance to call the police department if they see anything suspicious. (Anonymous tips can also be submitted here online.)
Chief Holloway had a positive—yet mildly cautious—view on body cameras. Pointing out that the camera is pointed away from the officer and at the other person, he shared that the cameras typically make the other person look bad. However, they must be implemented with care. Many body cameras, instead of being activated when an officer’s weapon is drawn, require officers to manually activate them by touching their chest. This can potentially cast a shadow over officers that forget to activate them in the heat of the moment – even if they did not have anything to hide. (Like dashboard cameras, body cameras cannot run 24/7.) Additionally, the station is currently required by law to give body-camera footage to whoever asks for it. This can be especially problematic when domestic disputes or the inside of people’s homes are recorded.
When asked about St. Petersburg’s noise ordinance, Chief Holloway shared that that the SPPD does enforce it. Generally, officers focus on responding to complaints rather than actively looking for noise violations. This approach enables SPPD to focus on its highest-priority issues.
With some businesses repeatedly showing themselves willing to accept the current noise-violation fine of $200, SPPD has been working with City Council to change St. Petersburg’s noise ordinance. The new ordinance will likely include provisions that could bar multiple offenders from operating at night for up to one year by revoking their extended-permitting privileges. Additionally, it will likely enable officers to issue citations to the owner of the establishment instead of the manager currently on duty, as is currently required. SPPD is also considering shifting noise-ordinance enforcement to civilians. This step could reduce average response time from 30 minutes to as little as five minutes and free officers to focus on higher-priority issues.
When asked how he personally handles local-election events, Chief Holloway shared that he just does his job. He concluded, “As long as my officers come home every night and community members come home every night, I’m fine with that.”