ST. PETERSBURG, FL (PINELLAS COUNTY)- According to a criminal news story on baynews9.com, a program that will send social service workers to calls involving certain non-violent situations in St. Petersburg is closer to becoming a reality as the St. Petersburg's city council approved a nine-month contract worth $850,000 last week. The contract was granted to the Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services. The Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services will head up St Petersburg's Community Assistance Liaison (CAL) program.
Mayor Rick Kriseman, along with the St.Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway, announced the proposal back in July 2020 during the George Floyd protests in St. Petersburg and throughout the United States. The protests over the death of George Floyd was calling for the city to "defund" the police. At that time, Mayor Rick Kriseman stated that he was seeking to "reimagine" what the St. Petersburg police department could do going forward.
Mayor Rick Kriseman stated that he felt there was an opportunity to make a few changes. For example, he stated that the city's police officers should focus on what the officers are trained to do and that being social workers was not what they are trained to do. Mayor Rick Kriseman also stated that using social workers, would greatly benefit and improve our community for those in need and would help prevent confrontation with police and get arrested.
The Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services officials stated that they are reviewing resumes and conducting interviews to prepare. They are also interviewing people for a program director job, 12 responders, and three licensed therapists.
St. Petersburg Police Chief Holloway stated that the city council last week that all 911 calls coming in will be answered as normal. The calls will come into the city's communications center and then be triaged according to the operator's judgment as to whether to dispatch the CAL team or send law enforcement officers.
The Jewish Family and Community Services President and CEO, Dr. Sandra Braham, stated that repeat 911 callers would be given special attention from CAL, and the program will try to "wrap our arms around those individuals" by giving the callers an alternate telephone number to call.
Terri Balliet, the Gulf Coast Jewish Family, and Community Services CEO, stated that more than 30% of all phone calls received by 911 in St. Petersburg involved mental health issues and addressing whether a person needed to be placed into protective custody via the Baker Act. The Baker Act is a Florida law that permits certain people suffering mental illnesses to be detained involuntarily for no more than 72 hours at a mental health facility should the individual meet certain criteria.
The St. Petersburg Police Department, along with the Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, are working with neighborhood groups to host events and inform the St Petersburg community about this new program before it launches.