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Sarasota County Sheriff predicts defunding the police will bring more crime

"If you start taking money away from law enforcement you are already seeing crime go up in Milwaukee, New York City, Chicago," Sheriff Tom Knight said.

SARASOTA, Fla. — “Defund the police.” We've heard this phrase chanted at many protests, and those voices are being heard.

In St. Petersburg, the city is taking $3.6 million away from hiring more officers and instead using it to hire social workers.

Starting Oct. 1, some non-violent calls to the police will be handled by social workers rather than uniformed officers. Other agencies in the Tampa Bay area are also considering changes in policing and taking away funds.

The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office says this is going to bring more harm than good.

“Taking $3.8 million out of my budget would be devastating to a community,” Sheriff Tom Knight said. “How that’s going to work with St. Petersburg, they are committed to that, it’s their policy decision and we’ll know in a couple of years if that emotional decision was the right decision or not.”

Knight says defunding law enforcement could mean he has to worry about putting away criminals who cross county lines to break the law.

“I'm not saying that communities can't do it but most of the time these decisions are made on emotion and if you start taking money away from law enforcement you are already seeing crime go up in Milwaukee, New York City, Chicago,” Knight said.

He predicts in the next 6 to 10 months we'll see crime go up in all the communities that take funding away from law enforcement.

RELATED: What are the origins of 'Defund the Police'?

Knight says he's already seeing it after his car and many others were broken into by someone who was down there from St. Pete; something he says isn't new.

“One thing I do know is we do have crime coming into my county that's coming out of St. Pete, so that does concern me when we have a lot of youth traveling 40, 50, 60 miles out of the St. Pete area to commit crime in Sarasota County,” Knight said.

"It's time for a change. Enough is enough,” Miyangel Ramesy, a protester in Sarasota County, told 10 Tampa Bay.

“We understand people want social change, we understand law enforcement is focused on that social change but the most important thing here is we have mutual respect for each other,” Knight said. “We can call each other out at times but it doesn't rise to the level of having a protest turn into a fight."

He says a change in policy or taking money away isn't going to fix the problem. He says instead, it's about taking action and building trust.

“There's a lot of good opportunities there to use policing and put in programs,” Knight said. “We have caseworkers in the sheriff’s office here, I have civilians that go out and work these communities, work with the people who are released from our jail, work with the people who are homeless out there and we have seen great strides.”

But what does the communication between Sarasota County deputies and the community look like?

"It looks so good that we had 13 protests and never made one arrest,” Knight said. “And so even though we may not all look the same and our ages are different in many regards, we have such good dialogue behind the scenes in these communities that we went through the last 3 to 5 weeks whenever arresting one person."

Knight says they left those protesting to protest and only assisted, not interfered.

Knight says the one thing Sarasota County doesn't have much of is mental health services. He knows people are emotionally frustrated right now with what happened in Minneapolis, and with COVID-19, so he's working on opportunities to provide outlets from people through emotional counseling.

RELATED: St. Pete police leave program focusing on reducing juvenile car theft

RELATED: Officials using youth programs to fight juvenile crime

Last year, St. Pete Police announced a task force to lower numbers when it comes to juvenile crime. Now, with the department looking to make changes after the protests, there might be a new way of dealing with crimes committed by minors.

“We’ll take baby steps. We’ll look at some of those calls and say okay starting October 1 we’ll let you handle this disorderly juvenile truancy, disorderly juveniles in elementary school, drug overdose and people in mental crisis,” Chief Anthony Holloway said.

RELATED: Protests continue even after St. Pete police announce changes

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

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