Someone comes to your window at midnight on the first of October, peers in, brandishing a baseball bat. The disheveled half-naked person breaks the window and starts screaming at you in gibberish.
If you are in St. Petersburg by the beautiful gulf of Mexico near Tampa and Clearwater Beach, Florida, you pull out your phone, dreading the call you must make nearly as much as the perpetrator facing you.
The reason: new rules put into effect that day by the city police department.
My best estimate of what will happen when you call 911:
YOU: Hello, Saint Petersburg police, there is a crazy man outside the window.
PHONE (person’s voice): Has a major felony been committed. That is – rape, murder, or other crimes involving serious bodily harm?
YOU: Not yet, but I’m afraid.
PHONE (now a robot voice): Please choose from the following calls for assistance, so that we may dispatch the proper person to attend to your request. Is this call regarding:
- Disorderly intoxication – press 1, plus the pound sign
- Drug overdose – press 2, plus the pound sign
- Intoxicated person – press 3, plus the pound sign
- Mental health crisis – press 4, plus the pound sign
- Suicide crisis – press 5, plus the pound sign
- Mental Health Transport – press 6, plus the pound sign
- Disorderly juvenile/truancy – press 7, plus the pound sign
- Disorderly Juvenile at Elementary Schools – press 8, plus the pound sign
- Panhandling – press 9, plus the pound sign
- Homeless complaints – press 10, plus the pound sign
- Neighborhood dispute – press 11, plus the pound sign
YOU: I just pressed Four. What next.
PHONE (robot voice): Thank you for your call. A CAL member will contact you shortly.
YOU: What the Hell is CAL?
Phone: Hangs Up.
CAL stands for Community Assistance Liaison, the 911 re-imagining brainchild of St Pete’s Mayor Richard David “Rick” Kriseman and Police Chief Anthony Holloway. All of the above 911 calls will result in the police not arriving. Unarmed, plain clothes social workers will be dispatched instead.
Chief Holloway envisions there will be between 15 and 20 CALs hired to work from 6 am to 2 am. He did not elaborate on who will arrive between 2 am to 6 am, but there is still time for more re-imagining from now until Oct. 1.
In order to replace police with liaison folks, funding for the new unit will come from a federal grant originally earmarked for the hiring of 25 new traditional police officers in St. Pete during 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, a press release explained.
The mayor is confident this will work:
We can also continue to re-imagine our police department. We’ve come a long way, and we are proud of our strides, but we are not complacent. Innovation is a part of our vision statement in St. Pete, the mayor suggested.
As Chief Holloway and Mayor Rick explained, the CAL team, would be trained to respond to a variety of situations that get called into 911, such as mental health issues and drug overdoses. Last year, police received some 13,000 of these calls, which will soon be handled by the CAL contingent.
In my opinion this program will last until the first social worker is attacked by a belligerent drunk, irate homeless wacko, drug addict, fighting neighbor or vicious juvenile.
Imagine the danger from being unarmed, when facing a suicidal person, mental health (crazy) victim, or some disorderly conduct that goes bad – and, things seem to go bad very often in this city:
- St. Petersburg crime rate is 47% higher than the national average
- Violent crime rate is 64% higher than the national average
- In St. Petersburg you have a 1 in 26 chance of becoming a victim of crime
- Some 55% of residents say they avoid walking alone at night
That doesn’t sound like a city that replaces 25 police officers with unarmed, unaccompanied social workers, no matter how much crime-fighting is re-imagined.
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