Black and Blue: A Conversation with Black Officers of the St. Petersburg Police Department
The Tampa Bay Breakfast Club, held a virtual conversation with Black officers from the St. Petersburg Police Department and other community members. The event was moderated by Regional Director of Organize Florida and President of the Child’s Park Neighborhood Association, Bro. John Muhammad and Unisha Bullard and Tony Williams. Chief Anthony Holloway, Assistant Chief Antonio Gilliam, Major Frank Williams, Major Mathew Furse, Major Patrice Hubbard, Major Frank Williams, Rev. Kenny Irby-non sworn officer – Civilian Director, Sergeant Orlawnah Sandy, Sergeant Brian Gainer, Officer Kourtney Parker, Officer Pamala Settle, Officer Grace Albritton, and Officer Julian Baptiste were in attendance.
The most recent death of George Floyd and many others before him sparked the movement for many communities to take another look at policing and community relationships with law enforcement and to also obtain systemic changes. There are currently 78 sworn African American officers with 20 being women and 575 office total in the St. Petersburg Police Department.
Some of the questions from the audience included:
“Why was riot gear and flash bags necessary for peaceful protestors?” – Musa Wood
“What is the function and role of the police in the black community?” – Themba Tshibanda
“What percentage of the police force resides within the City of St. Petersburg City Limit?”
“How much discretion do officers have in whether or not to make an arrest for minor offenses?” – William Graveley
“When the officer is the threat, is their any protocol or policy that requires you to intervene to save a life of a citizen?” – Bro. John Muhammad
Audience members did not seem moved by responses from the officers and often countered their talking points with personal experiences during their interactions with members of the SPPD, current policy positioning on issues such as body camera usage and its use of force policy.
Major Furse shared his experience with discrimination and bias externally and internally. Chief Holloway acknowledged that he has been profiled on several occasions as well. Officers were asked what inspired them to become law enforcement officials. For some, the desire to give residents in their communities a better experience was the primary reason. Several of the officers expressed their appreciation for the protest because as African-Americans the death of George Floyd resonated with them as well. The need for additional dialogue was expressed by both the officers and community.
Conversations are the foundation for meaningful change. The ability to listen with the intent on taking action is what St. Petersburg and many other communities need.
On July 9th, the St. Petersburg Police Department announced the formation of the Community Assistance Liaison (CAL) Team. The CAL team will be activated beginning October 1st and will be responsible for responding to the following calls:
- Drug overdose
- Drug overdose
- Intoxicated person
- Mental health crisis
- Suicide crisis
- Mental Health Transport
- Disorderly juvenile/truancy
- Disorderly Juvenile at Elementary Schools
- Homeless complaints
- Neighborhood dispute
Time will tell if these actions are temporary or indeed the first step in changing the way the City of St. Petersburg approaches public safety.