When I met with Chuck Harmon, we met initally to talk about the way St. Pete uses community policing. Late last year, amid all the noise about tent cities and a new Camelot in Tallahassee with one of St. Pete’s own as governor, Harmon decided to make his community policing department into something useful. This, for some reason, received a great deal of attention in the mainstream media (for all you guys playing the home version, The Gabber is NOT the mainstream media. We’re not exactly alternative news, either, but whatever, it works for us). Despite the lack of positive response in other area papers, I thought eliminating a separate group of Community Police Officers a stroke of genius on Harmon’s part (If you thought I- or any other reporter- was objective, you need to start paying more attention). Ken Reichert, the editor of this paper, did not.
Now, since Ken and I see eye to eye on many, many things, this surprised me a bit. We’ve only ever disagreed on two other issues- the importance of covering chicken-related issues in the paper (I’m all for it) and whether or not the US actually landed on the moon in the 60s (which I just say we didn’t because it makes his mouth get all tight and his nostrils flare, just like I bet they did now when he read this for the first time). So, like any other employee would do when their boss expresses an opinion on something, I told him he was wrong and I would, through objective, unbiased reporting, prove it to him. (If you ever wondered how the paper gets its ideas for stories, wonder no longer: it’s whatever we disagreed about in an editorial meeting the Friday before.)
To best describe why I’m an advocate of mainstreaming CPO’s with the rest of the force, let me paraphrase Chief Willocks: community policing is every officer’s job. Where I live I see police officers slogging through apathy (more than one of them has referred my concerns [petty theft, destruction of property, and two or three more counts of petty theft] to the community police officers instead of taking a report or doing anything about the crime).
As you may have guessed, I do not live in Gulfport. I live in the heart of midtown, on 21st Avenue behind Atwaters, between 9th and 7th Streets South. My neighbors refer to me as the white girl on 21st. When they give directions, they use me as a landmark (“go down the street til you see the house where the white girl lives and we’re two houses past her on the other side of the street”). When I was a kid we called it the south side, but that phrase seems as unwelcome at St. Pete City Hall as Don Imus at a Martin Luther King Jr. parade.
Now we, thanks to Mayor Baker and one of our many deputy mayors, Go Davis, call it “Midtown”, and promises of low mortgage payments and the next redevelopment trend led me here two years ago. Harmon’s actions should reassure me as well. But… what’s actually happening in midtown?
Here’s what I know. I know that Gulfport has stepped up and started to work with St. Pete on the Greater Childs Park initiative. I know Councilperson Mary Stull shows up at Childs Park meetings as well as at her own Gulfport Crime Awareness meetings. I know that Harmon’s CPO initiative has kept their promises- at least, when I’ve called they’ve called me right back and, as a result of my bitching I’ve seen more officers on my block. I know that most midtown neighborhoods have Crime Watch meetings. And- this is the big one- I know that Deputy Mayor Davis promises that the City remains ” committed to facilitating the redevelopment and economic growth of Midtown.”
But I believe some other things, too. I believe people still sell drugs on my street. A LOT of drugs, and not just the kind that make you want another bag of chips. I believe that St. Pete officers are aware of the problem. I believe that mine is not the only street in midtown that has this problem, and I believe that the police are probably aware of those other streets, too. I believe that Mayor Baker’s office has repeatedly ignored my request- and a few made by my publisher- for an interview. I believe that despite his promises, the deputy mayor hasn’t made a whit of difference in my quality of life.
A few months back, Gulfport Crime Awareness invited Childs Park Crime Watch to host a joint meeting. Other than one woman speaking and two people who attended with her, no one from Childs Park showed up. No one on St. Pete’s Council showed up, although Gulfport council had representation as well as several city staff. I heard a lot of “please don’t blame Childs Park for the crime in Gulfport”. Gulfport Chief of Police admits Gulfport has its share of criminals, but let’s be honest: if we had South Pasadena on the east side of Gulfport, I’m fairly certain we’d see fewer crimes in Gulfport as well.