ST PETERSBURG, FL - July 20, 2020 - According to an online news article published on WTSP.com, the city of St. Petersburg is moving $3.6 million from the city's police new hire budget and using the money to hire more social workers. On October 1, 2020, social workers will be handling some non-violent calls that typically go to the St. Petersburg Police Department. Several law enforcement agencies throughout the Tampa Bay area are additionally examining similar changes in policing and moving funda away from law enforcement agencies.
Sheriff Tom Knight with the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, stated that moving money away from law enforcement agencies and stifle the agencies' ability to hire new officers will "do more harm than good. Sheriff Tom Knight also stated that moving $3 million out of the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office would be devastating to the community. Sheriff Knight also stated that these types of policies take a few years to see the effects. Sheriff Knight stated that defunding law enforcement might cause criminals to cross county lines to break the law. The Sheriff also commented that in cities, like New York City, Milwaukee, and Chicago, where law enforcement budgets were slashed, crime rates are already on the rise.
Sheriff Knight predicts that crime will grow in all communities that took funds away from their local police departments. He predicts this could happen as quickly as within the next ten months. The Sheriff said that crime is already growing and that he and several other people have had their automobiles broken into from individuals from St. Petersburg. The Sheriff stated that criminals from St. Petersburg are driving 40 to 60 miles out of St Petersburg, Florida, to commit crimes.
Sheriff Knight stated that he understands that many people want social change, and law enforcement needs to focus on social change, and we all must respect one another. He added that each side should work for change and not turn a protest into an all-out fight. Sheriff Knight says taking money away from law enforcement agencies will not fix any problems. He said that change comes from building trust and taking action. Sheriff Knight stated that there are several excellent opportunities to put in social programs while using good policing. Sheriff Knight reported that their office has caseworkers, including civilian caseworkers who work in the community and work with homeless people, people just released from jail, and these programs have seen positive results.
For example, Sheriff Knight claims that there were 13 protests, and the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office did not make a single arrest. Sheriff Knight claims his deputies did not interfere with the protesters and the despite only assisted those who were protesting.
Sheriff Knight stated that Sarasota County desperately needs more mental health services due to how most people are upset about the Minneapolis incident, along with the stress and fear over the coronavirus. Sheriff Knight stated that he is striving to create new opportunities and services that provide places for emotional counseling.