BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Chief Anthony Holloway not only talks the talk but literally walks the walk.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re getting out into the community,” he said. “We’re getting to know the community; we’re being more interactive with the community, so I’m very proud of that.”
One way of connecting with the community is through Holloway’s “Park, Walk and Talk” program, which sees to it that the officers of the St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD) get out of their squad cars and speak directly to the city’s residents about any concerns and issues they may have. All uniformed officers patrol an area every week in this initiative, designed to make locals less wary of police officers and view them as allies.
“Nine times out of 10 when you see a police officer you think there’s something wrong,” Holloway said, explaining why he began the initiative. “We’re here for the good and the bad.”
Holloway employed this innovation when he became chief of police in Clearwater, and now in St. Pete, even participates in it himself.
“They’re required to do an hour a week but some also now are doing more than an hour a week,” the chief noted, adding that some residents have expressed a desire that they’d like to see more of the police in their community.
And this isn’t just confined to certain pockets of the city, but now encompasses all neighborhoods.
“We’ve touched every neighborhood in the community,” Holloway remarked, who took over as the SPPD chief in August of 2014. “I was very happy to know that we’ve done that.”
Residents have been warming up to the presence of the officers, Holloway said, and noted that tips being called in to the station have increased by 110 percent compared to last year.
Holloway also conducted his first community survey so that he could better gauge what the police department needs to work on in the coming year. Concerning the needs of young people, there are several community programs in place to offer positive options and paths to the youth of St. Pete.
One such initiative is the HERO program, which connects patients of All Children’s Hospital John Hopkins Medicine with the SPPD officers who volunteer their time to be a mentor to the children.
Another program is the Student Police Academy, which targets high school junior, seniors and college students that have an interest in a career in law enforcement. And the RAP—Recreation and Police—basketball program was revived last year to provide a stronger bond between youths and police.
The department is involved in the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, Holloway said, Girlfriends of Pinellas County and the Take Stock In Children organization.
“Our biggest program is Second Chance,” the chief said. “We just completed a year and we’re going to expand it a little bit.”
The program’s aim is to give first and second time young offenders a chance at doing community service rather than being arrested and taken to a juvenile center. Of the 112 young people who have gone through the program, Holloway said, 102 have completed the program and not found themselves back in trouble.
Holloway said the department’s future plans involve trying to reduce car thefts by young people, an issue that has been plaguing the community. The department would like to come up with consequences for the offenders right away—even through the Second Chance program—rather than let months go by before they have to go to trial.
“Get the parents involved, get the community involved to try and stop these kids from stealing cars,” he said. “You stole a car. We need to get you some type of counsel. We don’t want to wait two or three months down the road where—guess what?—by that time they’ve stolen three or four cars!”
With his innovations as chief and the multiple programs in which the department is involved, Holloway says, unsurprisingly, that what he loves most about his job is the community and the officers. He shows his connection to both by wearing his uniform proudly every day.
“I expect them [the officers] to wear a uniform every day,” Holloway pointed out, “so I want to be seen in my uniform every day so I can be connected to the officers and the community, so it can identify us as one, not just one or the other.”
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