Friday, January 19, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg neighborhood leaders want more information on crime

ST. PETERSBURG — Neighborhood leaders want more information about crime going on in their community.

A dozen neighborhood leaders recently met with police Chief Chuck Harmon and Mayor Bill Foster to ask the department to put out more real-time crime information.

In response, Harmon agreed to start dispensing information on Twitter about robberies, fugitives, shootings and other major incidents.

He also urged City Council members to follow the department's account on Twitter — the social media site that shares short bursts of information — instead of calling officers for details.

That didn't satisfy Judy Ellis, president of the Lakewood Estates Civic Association and head of the crime watch.

"Any way you shake it, we can't get timely information," Ellis said. "People want to know what's happening."

Residents want information when they see police cruisers on their street and officers running through yards, she said. People are concerned about safety.

Harmon agreed.

But he said he doesn't see a benefit to starting an active call log on the department's website like ones some Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies post. The information would be filtered and not give many details about incidents, he said.

"I am not going to jeopardize our officers or investigations," he said.

Harmon stressed that Twitter can go a step further than call logs by alerting the public when officers need their help with information.

For example, he cited the recent fatal hit-and-run crash on Coffee Pot Boulevard and bank robberies as cases where the public could help police find suspects. A Twitter account could also inform residents when officers block traffic or at fire scenes, he added.

Residents who are seeking more information, Harmon said, can go to CrimeReports.com.

The department partnered with the free service in 2009 so anyone could search police calls for service and to sign up for alerts in their neighborhood. Information is sent twice a day to the service.

Information isn't instant, even with online call logs.

The Tampa Police Department delays information — except for traffic incidents — for 45 minutes to protect officers and to stop crowds from gathering at crime scenes, said spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

The agency also doesn't publish details on sexual assaults, murders or robberies.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office prioritizes calls on its website as high, medium or low. The calls go active when a deputy arrives on the scene. Most dispatched calls are listed except issues involving children and sexual crimes, said spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda.

Kurt Donley, president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations, attended the meeting with Foster and Harmon. He suggested that the department use Twitter and thinks residents can benefit from following the account.

His biggest fear is that dispatchers will overuse the account, forcing people to stop checking.

"Quite frankly, I want more information," Donley said. "I'm 100 percent behind it."

Lisa Wheeler Brown agreed.

The chair of CONA's public safety committee is monitoring the department's Twitter feed and supports the effort, she said, adding: "I'm really excited about this."

An examination the of department's Twitter account, which is @StPetePD, shows that many residents might not know about crime updates being sent. As of Tuesday, it showed only 269 followers.

But more information has been sent since Harmon urged the City Council to follow the account.

Ellis and Harmon do agree on one thing: keeping crime down and neighborhoods safe.

Residents often call or email when they see a flurry of police activity, Ellis said. She frequently calls dispatchers but can't get details.

She hopes Harmon changes his mind about the call log.

"We have a huge network of busybodies," Ellis said. "One of the way we can keep crime down is by asking questions."

Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @MarkPuente on Twitter.

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