Monday, October 7, 2013

Your Candidates - How will they Make St. Pete Safer

A word of caution: This is a long Post. The responding candidates have taken the time to provide in-depth answers to your questions.

Each candidate was asked five questions taken from submissions from PATCH readers.

Here I bring each candidates answer to a specific question.

Question 1 
Specifically with details, what you would do, throughout the entirety of St. Pete, to reduce crime and make the city safe for its citizens?
 
Mayoral Candidates
Bill Foster: Repeated e-mails to the Foster campaign and a telephone call resulted in NO RESPONSE from the Mayor.

Rick Kriseman:
 Specifically with details, what you would do, throughout the entirety of St. Pete, to reduce crime and make the city safe for its citizens?

It starts by making sure our police force is led by a strong chief and that they are working out of a station that is modern and allows them to do their jobs better.  I have talked a lot about the need to return to more of a community policing model, but I am open-minded to whatever approach ensures responsiveness to our residents and also strengthens the officer-resident relationship. Moving back toward community policing does not mean abandoning the use of innovative technologies like predictive policing.

I support ending the current chase policy in order to keep our streets free of unnecessary high speed pursuits.

Finally, there are a host of other issues, such as code enforcement and the demolition of condemned homes, which will contribute to a safer St. Pete.  Education is also a key to reducing crime.
 
District 2
James R. "Jim" Kennedy, Jr.:
Following repeated e-mails there was NO RESPONSE

Lorraine Margeson
Specifically with details, what you  would do, throughout the entirety of St. Pete, to reduce crime and make the city safe for its citizens?
I would like to see some funds re programming in order to A) enhance spending for more police officers (increase our authorized strength) which would facilitate re instituting community policing back to its former scale B) fully fund the Mid-Town and Child's Park Initiatives C) re fund the neighborhood partnership staffing and neighborhood grant funding.  I know how neighborhoods can support each other. From approximately 1996 thru 2001 I ran the 34th St Corridor Crime watch. We had a VERY active volunteer group that worked successfully hand in hand with the St. Petersburg Police Department and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the entire city team at that time via the Neighborhood Partnership resources.  That kind of partnering needs to come back strongly to create vibrant neighborhoods, neighbor helping neighbor in conjunction with strong neighborhood policing initiative partnerships, economic development AND code enforcement/nuisance abatement pursuits.

District 4
Carolyn Fries
Specifically with details, what would you do, throughout the entirety of St. Pete, to reduce crime and make the city safe for its citizens?

My expertise lies in engineering, business operations and execution, not crime prevention, detection or punishment. Successful leaders define and communicate a vision, build a team of experts to carry out that vision, ensure the team has the tools they need to be successful, establish metrics to measure success and, based on results, make adjustments as needed along the way. While many residents express concern about drug use and sales, UCR crime stats currently used to track St. Petersburg’s crime rates include only violent and property crime. At a minimum, I will insist the city’s crime metrics be expanded to track vice crime (drugs, prostitution, etc.). Allowed the opportunity, I will participate in the selection process for a new chief and ask that applicants share their views regarding and strategies for reducing crime in our city. Prior to approving the new chief’s hiring, I will also discuss applicants’ responses with current police department staff and officers. When presented with valid supporting data, I will take action to support crime reduction strategies, whether adjusting the number of officers and/or staff, investing in technology for crime prevention, detection and/or operational process improvements, communicating with residents regarding how they can positively impact crime or authoring and passing crime related ordinances (e.g.: spice ordinance). I will then follow up with the department on a regular basis, reviewing metrics to determine effectiveness of various crime reduction efforts and request revisions to strategy when & where necessary.

Darden Rice
Specifically with details, what you would do, throughout the entirety of St. Pete, to reduce crime and make the city safe for its citizens? 

I will focus on three areas: police department reform, education, and city economic development. 

1.   Specific police reforms:

a.   Community policing: I support traditional community policing approaches.  Community policing is a return to neighborhood-based patrolling that fosters relationship building, community involvement, and crime prevention. We can learn from our previous experience to come up with a better program.

b.   Management Review- I will ask City Council to use its powers to vote for a management review to be conducted by a (truly) independent auditor. That will be our baseline to measure progress and to identify areas for improvement.

c.   Transparency- I will call for greater transparency in police department management. The police department is the department that operates in greatest isolation from the rest of the City departments. The first critical step in this direction is to conduct a managerial review.

d.   End high speed pursuits for suspects involved with non violent crimes such as property offenses, traffic offenses, or stolen autos.

e.   Tackle gang activity as a priority. Work with schools and recreation centers to provide meaningful after school activities for target students most vulnerable to gang recruitment.

f.     Meaningfully address issues that divide the department and impact morale. 

2.   Education – Education is the great equalizer. We have to get more kids graduating from high school who are able to enter the workforce or go on to higher education.

a.   Specifically, in the K-5 grades, we should emphasize hands-on, experiential learning and a greater focus on math and science.

b.   For grades 6-9, get kids off the street, offer programs after school, teach critical thinking and decision making skills, and get kids connected to city–sponsored robust mentorship programs.

c.   For grades 10-12, get students more involved with trades, crafts, apprenticeships, and/or college prep to get the ready for what comes after high school.

The City certainly plays a role in education. We have to work with the school system and residents to help offer safe, supportive, and nutritional environments so that children can focus on school. We also have a lot to learn from private schools’ unique approaches to learning and high success rates.  

3.   Economic Development-   Access to good jobs and a dedication to the local economy is a critical antidote to crime because lack of opportunity is at least one undeniable factor for those who are drawn into criminal activity. I am on record for supporting strategic vocational training that will help people enter the growing medical service, marine science, finance, and IT economic sectors. My specific work background in health care, environmental resource protection, and transportation makes me uniquely qualified to look for ways for the city to grow in these cluster areas. I particularly want to focus on how the City will develop its health care services sector, which is the sector that will offer the greatest quantity of jobs and ranges of employment, from lab technicians to rehabilitation to medical device manufacturing to elder acre to medical doctors and research. 

I am the most committed and knowledgeable candidate on mass transit in this race, and I support an improved mass transit system that will connect people to jobs more easily and make our area more competitive to attract businesses and events.

The business community knows I’m the best leader in this race. That’s why key influential business organizations such as the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce and Pinellas Realtors that have scrutinized my background, vision, and plans have endorsed me in this race.  I have a proven record of setting goals and getting results.

District 6
Karl Nurse 
Specifically with details, what you  would do, throughout the entirety of St. Pete, to reduce crime and make the city safe for its citizens?
Crime  -  A return to real community policing, combined with the accountability that crime mapping of hot spots, can provide a beginning of a culture to proactively solve problems.  Also, there is a real need to work further up the crime ladder to get the larger drug dealers, gun dealers, and fences of stolen merchandise.  I hope to have a voice in the selection of a new police chief who wants to try innovative approaches and expects make each neighborhood safe.   I also hope to change our policies for dealing with children who commit their first crime.   If we can work to divert them from the criminal justice pathway early, we can have significant long term reductions in crime.
 
Sharon Russ:
Repeated e-mails and a phone call produced  No Response

District 8 
Amy Foster
Specifically with details, what you would do, throughout the entirety of St. Pete, to reduce crime and make the city safe for its citizens?
First and foremost, every one of us should feel safe walking in their neighborhoods and that will be my first priority as your councilmember. St. Petersburg has added more territory over the years, our issues have changed, and we need more officers and different staffing models to address the issues. I’ll work to bring back the community policing model and focus on proactive policing tactics. I also support targeting hot spots and using data to drive decision making.

The police department cannot achieve safe neighborhoods alone-we must all actively participate in identifying problems and finding solutions. I will work with all stakeholders to address these issues and engage them in the process. We must address our transit and commercial corridors and other dead zones and areas of unsightly blight. Beautiful neighborhoods are safer neighborhoods and together we can make that happen.

 In order to deal with public safety issues, we must address the root cause of the issue-that means creating more jobs and providing more opportunities for our youth-that is why I have dedicated my platform to these areas. Research shows that when youth are engaged in positive out of school time activities they are less likely to commit crimes, less likely to try drugs or alcohol, and less likely to become pregnant. I will support youth afterschool programs in a parks and recreation centers, summer programs, youth internship programs, and apprenticeship opportunities for both youth and adults.

Lastly, I am committed to cleaning up nuisance properties in our city-that includes budget motels and rental properties. I have proposed a number of ideas for strengthening our nuisance ordinances, including adopting a tracking system that measures properties draw on city services using a room to call ratio plan, and holding performance bonds on the worst properties to pay for services above and beyond their fair share. Other cities across the country have done this, and locally, both Madeira Beach and Dunedin are exploring some similar nuisance ordinances I would like to see enacted in St. Petersburg. 
Steve Galvin:
Specifically, what would you do throughout the entirety of St. Pete to reduce crime and make the city safe for its citizens?

I have heard at many candidate forums the desire of the citizens to go back to the community policing model.  Some people seem to think that means having one police officer assigned to the neighborhood who will know all the residents as well as  their on-going problems and who will be available whenever they call him/ her.  That is just not possible because each officer only works one shift in 24 hours and not 7 days a week.   No one wants to call his community police officer  late in the afternoon with a sudden problem only to discover that his shift just ended and he won’t be back on until the day after tomorrow.  Therefore, in some neighborhoods we need no less than 3 officers (one for each shift), and more likely 5, assigned as a community policing team so that every 24 hours is covered.   So that an on-going problem does not need to be explained to a new officer by the residents again and again, I would request that there  be better established methods of communication between officers going off shift and the ones coming on. 

Before we do anything, we must identify our needs and our resources.  All neighborhoods in our City do not experience the same type or frequency of crime.  Overall, the City has experienced a decrease in violent crime, but there are still areas of town that require a more concentrated effort with the goal of eliminating the problems entirely and not simply driving the crime to a new location.  Presumably, we have experts in law enforcement techniques employed in our police dept. already.  They need to sit down with the mayor and council members   to outline separate plans to target the types of crimes specific to each neighborhood in the City.  Citizens must also take the responsibility of apprising their representatives on council of the criminal activity in their neighborhood.   For example,  Meadowlawn seems to have a greater problem with Code violations, such as individuals operating non-stop garage sales at a few houses or the storing of junk, debris or in-operable vehicles at their residence,  than they do crime.   A more pro-active Code Enforcement Dept. would be beneficial there and that should include some form of weekend Codes personnel because too many violators know how to work the system.   Citizens should know, too, that they can report code violations anonymously on-line on the City’s website and that Code enforcement staff will respond.

On a section along 34th and 35th Streets near my home in N. Kenwood and the Central Oak Park neighborhood, drugs, theft and prostitution have continued to plague the area since before the current councilman took office 8 years ago.  His endorsement of my opponent makes me worry that nothing will get better if she is elected.    A stronger police presence consisting of officers patrolling in cars during certain hours is necessary to stop and prevent that type of criminal activity.  The motel owners are not necessarily the problem and are often victims as well of emboldened criminals,  who know just how long it takes for police to respond to a call.  Residents in each block know which houses have drugs being dealt from them and which motels are enabling prostitution.  Citizens become frustrated and angry when they report the criminal activity and nothing is ever done.    I would like to see our police department utilize narcotics and prostitution task forces that will act on our citizens’ information, whether it be either surreptitiously or openly watching a drug house, conducting a controlled buy, or doing a prostitution sting at the motel that has the semi-trucks always filling the parking lot.   

  For areas of the City experiencing gang related activity, the first thing we must do is acknowledge that such groups exist.  In the past, our police dept. has targeted these loosely organized groups in some neighborhoods (Bartlett Park, Auburn Park, Harbordale), but a permanent police presence is the key to developing a trust between them and the children of the community before those kids are tempted by gangs.   Throughout my campaign I have been proposing satellite police stations in neighborhoods with high crime rates  (perhaps operating from 3 PM – 4 AM) so that there will be an obvious, constant police presence.  The officers assigned to the neighborhood station will be able to develop a rapport with the children, people will know where to go for help,  and both residents and criminals will know that response time is going to be quick.  With the officers being a part of the community, it is expected that they will become aware of the identity and habits of known drug dealers and gang members there and will be in a better position to stop their activities and arrest them.   

In other areas of the City, crime consists of daytime, residential burglaries.  Citizens watching out for their neighbors, knowing them well enough to at least have a phone number to call them during the day when a suspicious vehicle is seen in the driveway when the neighbor is usually at work, is what is necessary to prevent crime and make us all safer.  Criminals rely on us not wanting to get involved, and if a crime happens to you, you must do what I have done and show up at the police station to press charges and show up at the courthouse to testify so that the perpetrator is sent to jail. 

When it comes to reducing crime and making the City safe, it is obvious that one solution does not fit all and the answer is not necessarily more police officers.   For some areas, such as our downtown, safety has been found in numbers of people and increased activity.  But what has happened for Beach Drive and Central Avenue must be extended west.  We have a great asset in Williams Park, but it is vastly underutilized and people do not feel safe going there.  Encouraging regular activity in the park will change that:  the City should schedule weekend performances in the bandshell,  Shakespeare in the Park should be on the stage there in the spring instead of at Demen’s Landing (the parking garage next to MSC could be used), install a splash pad for the children to play in the water in the summer, and erect a carousel with the figures carved by local artists as they recently did in Boston.  Eliminating the PSTA bus hub at the park will also help.   The City should also encourage different types of vending carts to operate in and at the corners of the park. 

Be sure to comment below or you can e-mail Doc at: dr.webb@verizon.net, or send me a Facebook Friend request.

Campaign Disclosures: Contributor to Kathleen Ford Campaign, Darden Rice Campaign, Concern Citizens of St. Petersburg, Rick Kriseman for Mayor, District 2 Lorraine Margeson

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