When St. Petersburg’s new police chief, Tony Holloway, agreed to go to a December 7 Uhuru meeting – and then said he would not attend – local social media sites erupted with comments from the black community like the new chief, who is also black, had been “too good to be true” and suggestions the city had hired the “same ol’, same ol’.”
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office told the Gabber the public had only heard part of the story, so we asked for a meeting with Holloway, who agreed to sit down with the Gabber and answer questions – not just from this reporter, but from the public. You’ll find their questions at the end of this article.
On December 17, the Gabber met with Holloway at his office, without any other officials present. At that meeting, Holloway said he did chose not to attend the Uhuru meeting, titled “Could Ferguson Happen Here? Should Ferguson Happen Here?” but told the Uhurus he would meet with them in his office. The Gabber emailed the Uhuru offices and asked for confirmation of this, but received no response as of press time.
Holloway said the meeting topics were worthy of a larger audience.
“It’s not just the Uhurus,” Holloway explained. “Everybody wants to have this discussion [about policing policies and race]. If we’re going to have a community meeting, let’s find a place where we can pack the house.”
Since that time, Holloway has met publicly with a small, city-sanctioned and selected group, called the Community Awareness Response Team (CART), to discuss public safety issues facing St. Petersburg. He estimates 15 to 20 people attended the meeting to observe, including representatives from the Nation of Islam and the ACLU. He also said that of a group of protesters outside the meeting, four came to the meeting.
“It was a meeting to say, ‘OK, what is everybody asking? What are the questions that are out there?’” he says, adding that the meeting will help him prepare for a public forum later this month.
CART raised issues that included use of excessive force, training and racial profiling. Here are his thoughts on those issues, along with answers to questions submitted by local residents.
On Racial Profiling
“The biggest thing I keep hearing about is profiling,” Holloway says. “We had already started looking at racial profiling here. We had already started looking at the stats: Why are …people of color … being stopped more?”
Holloway alluded to statistics mentioned in the daily paper about police arresting more black than whites for drug-related charges, but said his research indicated those arrests came in tandem with another offense.
“When we drilled down into that, it was more secondary charges: [For example,] we were arresting a guy for burglary, and when we arrested him for burglary he had marijuana in his pocket.”
Despite his research, Holloway says he prefers to use statistics as a “gauge” instead of holding them up as proof of anything. He says the issue of profiling comes down to fear.
“You can make statistics say whatever you want them to say,” he says. “I like to go into the community and the question is, ‘Is there a reduction of fear in your community?’ That’s the key question. If two burglaries happen in your community – I’ll use Snell Isle [as an example]. If two burglaries happen there, that world is upside down. If two burglaries happen in a low-income area, you’re like, ‘It happens all the time’. People have gotten used to it. One in any neighborhood is one too many.”
On Excessive Force
When Holloway ran the Clearwater Police Department, he had a policy: Officers found to have misused force could get neither a promotion nor a transfer for two years. He notes that “misuse of force” also dealt with verbal interactions deemed inappropriate.
“Some people say, ‘Don’t you think that’s pretty harsh for being rude?’” he says.
He changed department policy so that his command staff, rather than a Citizen Review Committee, hears Internal Affairs cases. He says he has no issue explaining the IA decisions to anyone, however.
“I, as the police chief,” he says, “have to make those best judgments for the police department and also for the citizens.”
“How are we going to train the young officers?” was a question he heard at the meeting. His answer?
“We talked about getting people involved in the Citizen’s Police Academy, so they can see why officers do what they do, and at the same time asking our citizens: Let me look through your glasses. Let me look through your lens to see what you see.”
Have you thought about community collaboration? Do you have any ideas about how Gulfport and St. Petersburg can work together?
“I’m tired of hearing the same thing, push it left, push it right… we all have the same issue. There’s two percent of every population [who] is bad,” he says.
He says drugs means all drugs, and that “there are four crimes that make this world go around” and he places drugs at the top of the list – especially along the Gulfport/St. Petersburg 49th Street corridor.
“We really have one problem, one issue we need to address together,” he says. “Drugs.
People break into your home? For drugs. People rob you? They’re not Robin Hood. For drugs. Prostitution? Drugs. If you were to take that key element, take those drugs away, they wouldn’t be burglarizing Gulfport; your crime would go down. If we all focus on stopping the supply and demand, it would all go down.”
Holloway has directed his officers to target mid-level and higher drug dealers who have “trafficking” amounts of drugs: amounts that suggest an intent to sell.
“I’m tired of going after those guys and gals who are on the street corner. I arrest one, I have three more replace them,” he says.
Are St. Petersburg police going to start walking the neighborhoods and talking to the residents like they used to do?
As of December, every officer (save those working overnights) had completed at least one “park, walk and talk,” Holloway says, adding that officers have started talking to people with home security cameras and asking them to share footage in instances where a crime has occurred by their homes.
What are the results of this new initiative?
Holloway offered to take this reporter and Childs Park Neighborhood Association President Brother John Muhammad on a park, walk and talk to see the results as they occur.
What steps are you taking and what community groups are you working with to prevent youth crime? Is there a youth crime prevention budget?
Second Chance will allow kids to make two mistakes before going to a juvenile assessment center, Holloway says.
The cost of processing a minor at the juvenile assessment center is $84 per child, Holloway says, adding that St. Petersburg spent $20,000 in the third quarter of 2014 to process children. He says Second Chance will deal more with intervention than prevention but will free up money to create front-end programs to help kids make better choices and thus prevent crime.
“If we can save that money on the back end, we can spend it on the front end,” he says. That’s not to say kids committing violent crimes will get that second chance.
“Everybody has done something wrong in their life. Either you didn’t get caught or you caught a break. Now it’s: Shoplifting? Take him to the juvenile assessment center. We’ve got to put something in between; we’re losing our kids. If a child robs somebody, he needs to go to the juvenile assessment center. A child gets caught the first time out with a misdemeanor amount of pot or shoplifting, what do we have in the middle to help?
How do you compare St. Petersburg race relations to North Greenwood in Clearwater [a similarly disadvantaged neighborhood that fell under Holloway’s responsibilities when he worked in Clearwater]?
“I would say the city [of St. Petersburg] has done a fabulous job, because there was an issue that happened in ’96 and we’ve come a long way. We were having conversations. The thing that I see here is that we stopped having those conversations because ‘everything was OK’… but everything has just been sitting on the back burner, simmering. So those conversations we were having in ’96? We need to start having them again in 2015. We’ve got to start answering some of those tough questions [like] ‘What have we done that we [in law enforcement] have lost the trust of our citizens?’” he says, adding, “These body cameras are not going to build trust.”
Only some St. Petersburg police cars have cameras; Gulfport police cars have cameras and officers driving those cars without them have body cameras. Holloway believes car cameras would help build trust in the community.
How can you get poor black people in the south side to trust the police more?
“By us getting out of our cars,” says Holloway, “by us walking and talking to people and showing them that we really do care about their problems… that we’re coming to the community and we’re coming as problem solvers.”
Holloway says the police department will have a larger forum in January. The Gabber will keep you posted as to the details.
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri [at] theGabber.com.