Police in St. Petersburg, Florida announced Thursday they will no longer send an officer for non-violent 911 calls.
Instead, the St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD) said they would be creating a new division within the department – the Community Assistance Liaison (CAL). The SPPD said it planned to retain “a social service agency to respond to non-violent calls for service from the public.”
The new setup will begin on October 1, when CAL team members will respond to the following issues instead of police officers:
.Mental health crisis
.Mental Health Transport
.Disorderly Juvenile at Elementary Schools
A press release from the SPPD said that in 2019, “the Police Department responded to approximately 12,700 calls for service on the above issues (out of a total of 259,800 calls for service).”
The new CAL department will now handle the above calls instead of trained police officers. The new division will also replace a previous commitment to hire an additional 25 officers over the next two years.
The Police Department will lose $3,125,000 in federal grant funding awarded to pay for the new officers and $3,800,000 the City had earmarked in matching funds required by the grant. The City will instead use those funds to pay for this new service,” the SPPD said in its press release.
The SPPD said it would monitor calls where a member of the CAL was dispatched “for one year to determine whether this approach has been successful or whether officers were still required to respond to these issues in addition to the CAL team member.”
Law Enforcement Today – a police-centric news outlet – tweeted in response to the SPPD’s decision that “Not every 911 call starts violent – but many of them end that way. This is a catastrophe waiting to happen… and it’s spreading across America.”
Not every 911 call starts violent – but many of them end that way. This is a catastrophe waiting to happen… and it's spreading across America.https://t.co/V7IFpDDc8a
— LawEnforcementToday (@LawEnforceToday) July 11, 2020
At a press conference, Police Chief Anthony Holloway said the decision to create the CAL came after the police-involved death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd and discussions with community organizers, the police union, protesters, and faith leaders.
“Now after all those conversations, we had one common goal, and that common goal is very simple. Our citizens is asking for change. The city of St. Petersburg and the police department is ready for that change,” Holloway said.
“When a police officer responds to these calls, these are non-violent calls. These are calls that people are asking for help. Our police department is very young, the average age is about 25, and some of these men and women don’t even have kids at home, but we’re asked sometimes to help someone raise their kids,” he added. “We’re sometimes asked someone -to help someone, that has a mental issue. Yes, we go to a lot of training, but we don’t have enough training. We’re not experts in that.”
Holloway was asked about potential adverse effects of the decision not to hire 25 new police officers and replacing them with social workers to respond to non-violent 911 calls.
“If it gets to the point where the officers are responding to that, then that would be a conversation you’d have to have with the mayor again to see, this isn’t working, but we’re going to make this work, because this is what the community is asking for, this is the change that they are, part of the change that they’ve been wanting, this is the change that we’re going to give them,” Holloway said.