St. Pete police chief talks policing and homelessness

More than a dozen people gathered for a discussion about “policing and homeless residents” in St. Petersburg Saturday.

Celebrate Outreach organized the event featuring St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway as the guest speaker at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Mirror Lake Circle North.

The volunteer-run organization works to find ways to prevent and end homelessness.

Chief Holloway  answered questions and attendees brainstormed three specific issues they wanted addressed.

The issues included public restroom service, a liaison between the homeless and police department, and more officers who work specifically with the homeless community.

“The only way for us to do a good job for the city of St. Petersburg is to listen to the past, learn from the past,” Chief Holloway said.
Chief Holloway joined the St. Petersburg police department in August of 2014.

He says he’s in the process of hiring 12 new police officers dedicated to downtown St. Petersburg for the next two years.  He hopes to have those officers in place by November.

“They see the same faces everyday,” Holloway said of what’s to come.

Those in attendance told Fox 13 they wanted to see more training for officers dealing with the homeless community.

“Our hope is that we can see officers be better educated on human rights and on the civil rights of homeless folks,” said Rev. Bruce Wright, a Celebrate Outreach board member. "It’s just a state of being, homeless. I’ve been homeless. Homelessness is not a crime. It’s just the idea you don’t have a home.”

Wright discussed the lack of public restrooms and said he would be willing to serve as a liaison between police and the homeless community. Chief Holloway says the liaison could remain in communication with a specific member of the department for concerns or complaints.

“I think life-sustaining activities have to be a paramount concern and we have to have a 24-hour bathroom availability,” Wright said.

Chief Holloway talked about ways St. Pete police can protect businesses and homeowners while addressing the needs of residents experiencing homelessness. The presentation reviewed successes and challenges of balancing crime fighting and peacekeeping.

“Being homeless is not a crime, but also the thing people should be aware of is urinating in public, you’re going to be arrested,” Chief Holloway said.   ”I’ll  check with parks and find out how come we don’t have bathrooms available. Again, it could be a budget issue. I don’t know. I’ll talk to my boss.”

Those who attended called the discussion a start but said there is more work to do.

“It's important for him to hear so that he becomes empathetic with our concerns and compassionate,” said Celebrate Outreach President George Bolden. “Really keep it in the forefront of his mind when he is making policies and directing his officers moving forward.”