Chatting with the Chief

BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – This Monday marked 60 days in office for St. Petersburg’s new police chief and he celebrated by making good on his promise to hold an open forum.

The Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, located at 2240 9th Ave. S., housed more than 40 residents all-waiting to get their personal questions answered on everything from new police policies to crime in their neighborhood.

It’s called Chatting with the Chief, but before taking on individual questions, Chief Anthony Holloway gave a few words on his particular style of law enforcement.

“A lot of people have been asking questions,” said Chief Holloway. “Well, I’m here to tell you that we are here to help you and vice versa. We can’t do it alone.”

So what exactly does he mean by that?

He wants police officers to get out in the community and talk to its residents. In fact he expects this to be 90 percent of a police officer’s job.

“If I had my choice I wish I could keep these handcuffs in this pouch,” he said stating that in only seven percent of their calls does he feel that arrests are necessary and only as a last resort. And the final three percent? He reserves that for those unfortunate times when weapons have to be drawn in order to keep the community and its officers safe.

“We cannot do this alone,” he continued playing hardball on community involvement. “We gotta stop asking why are so many Africa-American males are being arrested and get back to the question: ‘Why are they committing crimes?’”

Chief Holloway pointed to drugs as a huge culprit in the number of lockups around the city. Although he agreed that incarcerating teens for minor offenses has to stop because “we all did something wrong growing up; we just didn’t get caught doing it,” he did emphasize the need for some tough love in order to get this generation of teens to get going again.

He shared that even though he was raised in a single parent home, along with four siblings, the community stepped up and enforced the rules. Something he feels is lacking in today’s society.

“Ms. Jones would whoop me just as good as my mom,” he said stating that children need rules to follow in order to stay on the straight and narrow path. “We have to come back to those rules.”

The chief of police also spoke on his, “Park, Walk, and Talk,” program stating that since its implementation some residents are getting nervous when a police officer shows up at their house asking questions. Again, it’s part of that 90 percent talk strategy Holloway is trying to take root amongst his officers in an effort to show respect to all neighborhoods and to see what is needed in each one in order to make the community a safer place.

Although the chief is set on individuals following the laws of the land, he wants the community to know his officers are there to help, not snooping around in order to catch them doing something. He wants officers to approach the teens of the community in a nonaggressive nature so that they will be more comfortable with coming to law enforcement in times of need.

“I don’t want anyone running away from this badge,” said Chief Holloway. “I want you running to this badge.”

The newly appointed police chief opened the rest of the evening up for individual questions from the community members that took the time to come out.

A few questions and answers from the chat session

Phillip Haywood is concerned that his criminal record is the reason why the school board will not let him mentor children, but he feels that is exactly why he should be able to because his experience could help keep these young men and woman off the street.

Chief Holloway: “I totally agree. I would like to get a panel of young men and women that have gone through what you’ve gone through to talk to these children. They need to see that it’s not Hollywood out there…I’m going to sit down and figure out how we can get a forum together.”

Gwen Reese wanted to know how the community could work with law enforcement to change the perception of law enforcement.

Chief Holloway: “That’s why we are starting Park, Walk and Talk. All you’ve seen is an officer coming into your neighborhood, taking a report and taking someone to jail. Let’s get out of our cars and meet people. We were going down the right track before 9/11. We had community policing grants and the government was giving us lots of money. We were becoming part of the community. After 9/11 we became experts in terrorism and we left the community…We have to get back into the community. We will be participating in ride alongs where you can ride along with an officer to see what he sees. Also, we are going to try to open up our home to you. I want to get a simulator where you can go in for five minutes and feel what we feel.”

Louis Williams wanted to know if we are going to start some type of diversion program for first time offenders rather than taking them to jail.

Chief Holloway: “We are actually talking about that now. The mayor and a couple of the council members are talking about it. What are we going to do with children? Instead of arresting little Tony Holloway for shoplifting, have him get his community service hours in; have him clean up the neighborhood. Once he gets his hours in, his arrest record goes away.”

Darryl Rouson wanted to know if there is some kind of diversity recruitment in place.

Chief Holloway: “We are aggressive. We actually go to Bethune-Cookman University, FAMU the military.  A lot of minorities just do not want to do this job because they don’t want to get the backlash from the community. We have got to start training that mind the right way…How do we go find that young man or young lady at the age of 18 and show them where we want to take them. Maybe we need to start an academy so that we can give a job at the age of 19.”

Gwen Brown wanted to know about the existing programs that help stem the flow of children going into the criminal justice system.

Chief Holloway: “We have a couple of programs, but it comes down to parent involvement. I can tell you this, during football season we’re all at the stadium because we have the next so and so kid. We run our kids to a football practice, but how many of us will run them to an educational center.”

One concerned citizen wanted to know what the chief was going to do about the good ol’ boy system in the police department.

Chief Holloway: “The good ol’ boy system is everywhere. I let them know that I will be judging them by the productivity and how they get out in the community…I’m still working my way through. The best part about it is that there are 549 officers and I have no idea who’s who around there. They have to prove themselves to me now.”

Space only permits so many questions and answers, so come on down to the next Chatting with the Chief forum set for December. Keep reading The Weekly Challenger to find out what day and time.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com

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