Bridging the gap between community and law enforcement

BY ALLEN A. BUCHANAN, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Formulating a relationship of trust and clearer understanding between the community and law enforcement was the purpose of the community forum held Sun., Nov 23 at the free Fall Theater on Central Avenue.

The forum, which was being taped as a television pilot for the radio show “Waking Up with Edie Darling,” featured St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Thomas Holloway, Chief Justice Thomas McGrady of the Sixth Judicial Circuit of Florida and local community activist Momma Tee Lassiter. Darling was the moderator.

“My hope is that the police department and community can come together as one to understand issues on why our young men and young women are getting arrested,” said Holloway. The chief stated that solving the problem begins at the most obvious level with unquestionable impact.

“I think it has to get back down to when you were growing up. What were we doing in our homes for our kids to not get arrested; what are we doing in our homes to get our kids back on track because that’s where it starts – in the home.”

Holloway said that one new program being adopted by police in local communities is Park, Walk, and Talk. “Our officers are going to get out of their vehicles and reintroduce themselves back into the community,” he said.

The goal of the program is to establish communications with citizens and develop a rapport that results in less arrests and more constructive dialogue. The chief stated that the last thing he wants is for police to show up only for arresting citizens. He would much prefer and to achieve a level of cooperation where law enforcement is a helping hand to the community.

“I grew up in St. Petersburg, went to school here and we have the same concerns for the entire community,” said Chief Justice McGrady. He agreed with Holloway on the important role family plays in the lives of young people and their future. He pointed out that once a situation reaches the court level, it is imperative of the courts to not only look out for the rights of the defendant but also for the rights of the victim.

McGrady feels that a major contributor to criminal behavior is some form of substance abuse or alcohol.

“Probably 80 percent of all crimes are either directly or indirectly related to substance abuse including alcohol,” said McGrady who makes constructive use of his position to try to combat the lethal one – two punch of substance abuse and criminal behavior.

“I try to work closely with law enforcement, with the State Attorney’s Office, with the Public Defendant’s Office and others to develop programs that will address those issues,” he said.

McGrady shared with the live studio audience the purpose of Safe Harbor, one of the programs that he helped developed.

“To get counseling…job counseling, abuse matters, mental health counseling. Safe Harbor is a place where law enforcement can take someone who is arrested for intoxication that otherwise might be homeless. They can have a place to sleep, a meal to eat and the services that can be provided for them.”

According to McGrady, the 450-bed facility is a great benefit for giving substance abusers a temporary place to stay instead of on the streets. McGrady emphasized the need for more substance abuse and mental treatment centers.

Community activist Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter spoke about one of the major problems that need to be resolved at the community level. “We need to take a time out on this black on black crime,” she said.

She also echoed Holloway’s belief that the family is the first line of defense for channeling our youth in the right direction. Lassiter also underscored the significant role of the church in embracing youth, teaching spiritual values and providing a safe-haven of activities that prepare them for the future.

Overall, she shared her strong desire to work with any agency that can contribute to ensuring better relations evolve between the community and law enforcement,

The community forum culminated with questions from the audience.

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