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Protests continue even after St. Pete police announce changes

The police chief says he knows he can’t make everyone happy, but is willing to continue listening to all sides.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The St. Pete Mayor and Police Chief promise they are listening.  

On Thursday, the two along with other city leaders announced a series of bold changes including redirecting money intended to hire new officers, and instead allocating that to a new unarmed unit of social workers. 

“I know we’re not going to make everybody happy-- there’s no way we’re going to make everyone happy,” said Chief Anthony Holloway of people on both the far left and right of American politics.

But Holloway says he is willing to LISTEN to everyone. It’s what he says he’s been doing for weeks, and how his agency came up with its newly announced C.A.L program which stands for Community Assistance Liaison.

The group will be made up of plain clothed, unarmed social workers who will respond to non-violent calls for help-- in some cases, family members like a mother calling for help with her son.

RELATED: Police investigate protests at St. Pete Pier

RELATED: Change is coming to the St. Petersburg Police Department

“What she’s asking for is help, not the gun and a badge, but someone who can guide he or she through this crisis,” said Holloway.

The chief says the pilot program will start small, mainly dealing with kids, truancy, drug overdoses, or people who just need help.  All the type of calls, he says were dumped on police agencies across the country as funding for other social service programs was cut over the past 30 years.

“There are some different forms of this across the country and we said ‘why not try this?’ Why not send someone that is an expert, a professional, and there that can probably talk to the person and get the person back on track.”

But what will happen if things go wrong? The social workers won’t have a gun or radio to call for backup.  The chief says that alone will send a signal that C.A.L member is there to help, not harm.

When asked if he was worried for their safety the chief says they will be in the same shoes as other social workers and ER workers who deal with the mentally ill or people in crisis every day.

“I’m always worried for everyone’s safety,” said Holloway. “That’s why we’re going to work through this and they’re going to be experts.  We’re going to ask them ‘do you feel safe going in here?’  We won’t know unless we try.”

The chief estimates the program will reduce the burden on his street cops by around 12,000 calls a year, freeing up time for things more frequent de-escalation and self-defense training so officers aren’t as quick to pull out their guns.

“Besides my gun, besides my Taser, what else do I have?”

The chief says while he knows he will never make everyone happy, it will take all sides coming to the table to result in meaningful change.

“We’re going to take recommendations because that’s the only way we’re going to make this department better and make the city better.”

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