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St. Petersburg leaders support police, talk of equipment needs

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council passed a resolution Thursday to support adding a special designation to Fourth Street in honor of the city's three fallen officers.

Fourth Street, from Interstate 275 to Interstate 175, would become the "Sgt. Thomas J. Baitinger, Officer Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz and Officer David S. Crawford Memorial Highway" if the Legislature agrees to the street designation.

Baitinger and Yaslowitz were killed Jan. 24 in a shootout with a fugitive. Crawford was shot Feb. 21 when he stopped a prowling suspect downtown.

"This is the most traumatic experience this community has been through that I can remember," said council member Karl Nurse. "We have to ask what we can do to better protect the officers. … We have to go through the grieving process, but we also have to start asking questions."

Whether this show of support will translate into dollars is another question.

The city's department heads have begun reviewing their annual budgets to consider cuts. With the city facing at least a $12 million shortfall, no department is considered safe. But the spate of shootings has council members sympathetic to requests made by the police about equipment.

"I'm sure it'll play into it," said Detective Mark Marland, president of the Police Benevolent Association.

On the wish list so far are ballistic shields. The department has about 12, Marland said. They can provide protection during a shootout like the one that claimed the lives of Baitinger and Yaslowitz.

Baitinger was using Sgt. Karl Lounge's ballistic shield when he was shot by Hydra Lacy Jr. Lounge said that shield was the only one available at the time.

"Losing three officers might give light to the things we need," Lounge said. "We're not trying to break the budget. We just want, when it hits the fan, to have the equipment we need."

Police Chief Chuck Harmon said he's still awaiting the tactical review reports by the department on both shootings. After they are completed, he said he will convene a board that will include representatives from the agencies that responded to the shootings. The board will consider if there's anything the department can do better in responding to crises. The group also will consider training, personnel and equipment.

Until that analysis is done, Harmon said he doesn't know what type of equipment requests he will make in response to the shootings. He said he thinks the department already has the equipment it needs. He also has the use of an account financed by forfeitures, or about $200,000, that can be used to buy equipment like ballistic shields or thermal imaging devices.

Regardless of how much more the department gets from the city's budget this year, officers said Thursday they were grateful for the show of support from the community in the past month.

"We see the bad apples every day," Marland said. "And it seems the community is against you. But when you see people line the streets with signs of support, you get the uplifting feeling that people are really behind you. It's been overwhelming."

"The community is made up of mostly good people," Lounge said. "Do we forget that, dealing with the bad 5 percent? I think so. So it's nice to be reminded of that."

Lobbyist registration idea back on table

More transparent rules on lobbying at City Hall aren't dead after all. In January, a council subcommittee refused to back a proposal that would have required lobbyists to register their names, contact information, whom they represent and on what subjects they were trying to influence before speaking with city officials. Back then, the committee of Jeff Danner, Jim Kennedy, Steve Kornell and Wengay Newton let the matter drop. But on Thursday, Kornell brought it up again because he sensed there was support for it from the rest of the council. His motion to discuss rules that could follow county or state rules on lobbying registration was approved unanimously. City attorneys will draft a proposed ordinance. "It's very important that we make it clear to everyone that we're not trying to do things behind closed doors," Kornell said.

St. Petersburg leaders support police, talk of equipment needs 03/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 3, 2011 10:10pm]
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