The town-hall style meeting invited citizens from both cities to the Gulfport Neighborhood Center to ask the two chiefs about the state of law enforcement in the neighboring communities with the goal of collaboration in mind.
“The relationship between the two cities has never been better,” Gulfport Police Chief Rob Vincent said.
Chiefs Robert Holloway of the St. Petersburg and Vincent of Gulfport shared similar views on crime and crime prevention and emphasized the importance of police in the community rather than in a police station.
“Police officers don’t work in a police station, they work in the neighborhoods,” Vincent said. “The job of the police is to interact with the public in their neighborhood, not to have a place where people have to come and find them.”
Chief Holloway claims that having a police substation on 49th Street in between Gulfport and Child’s Park in St. Petersburg would just be a “store front.”
“The next question people would ask is ‘Why are there officers in the station doing nothing all day?’” he said.
Vincent agreed with Holloway in opposing a police substation.
The chiefs were also in agreement that similar crimes affect both cities equally.
Car burglaries and auto thefts are nothing new in Gulfport, but Chief Holloway claims they are just as common in St. Petersburg and easily preventable if residents kept their cars locked.
“Auto theft is not going down,” Holloway said. “ But if people were just to take their keys out of their car and lock their car, I know in my city, we could reduce it by 80 percent.”
Both cities are also battling a new challenge: heroin.
“In St. Petersburg, that’s our biggest issue now,” Holloway said. “Heroin [usage] has climbed ten times what we’ve recovered last year.”
Holloway claims that local officers have done a great job shutting down local pill mills. The problem is once the pills went away, heroin appeared in the area in its place.
“It’s the same story [for Gulfport],” Vincent said.
One goal of the Chief’s Chat was for members of both communities to better understand about how police are working together to prevent crime in the mutual neighborhoods.
Chief Vincent stressed in the meeting that people of Gulfport should not worry what part of town criminals come from.
As he stated, there is no way of telling where criminals come from, and if there were a way, Vincent asked, “What difference would it make? If we were to conclude that a large percentage of people who were committing crime in Gulfport were coming from St. Petersburg, is there a possible way to prevent that?”
According to Vincent, the answer is no.
“We address the crimes that happen and the people who commit them as individuals who commit crimes. That’s how we do business.”
Councilwoman Christine Brown, also in attendance, praised organizations that teach values to children.
“I think things like the Boca Ciega Pirates and TASCO is bringing the kids in a positive atmosphere,” Brown said. “These programs offer kids an opportunity to get out of their environment and see positive things happen. They do matter and they do help.”
Holloway and Vincent agreed that community involvement, including events such as the Chief’s Chat, are key in reducing crime.