ST. PETERSBURG — On Monday the city will launch a new community policing project in three neighborhoods.
The Community Police and Engagement project, known as CAPE II, will kick off in Bartlett Park, Historic Kenwood and Grand Central neighborhoods.
For many residents, the return of community policing is welcome news.
In late 2006, St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon ended the community policing program, re-routing 41 officers into different jobs. Now the community resource officers respond to neighborhood calls within 24 hours, but not always with a direct visit.
The move sparked controversy because some residents were critical that their community officer would not be responding to emergency calls and other needs first as opposed to other officers.
"We've had tons of problems off and on," said Aviva Bowman, 37, coordinator for the Grand Central District Association, adding that many of the area's crime problems stem from homeless people and solicitors.
Bartlett Park has its issues.
"This time last year there was a lot of tension between gangs on the south side," said Tom Tito, 53, vice president of the Bartlett Park Neighborhood Association.
"People living near drug houses need more reassurance from police," he said.
Tito said he thinks the program will generate more calls from residents who witness criminal activity but usually feel too hopeless to be able to change it.
Some residents are hopeful that the additional police presence will spread goodwill throughout the city.
Bowman said she hopes the CAPE II project will bring more visitors to the Grand Central District.
"Sometimes people think Grand Central has a bad name," Bowman said, "especially after dark."
She said she feels safe in the area, but the police presence may help others know that it is safe to come to the area as well.
Neighborhood leaders realize that an increased police presence doesn't mean change will happen overnight.
"It's going to take some time, but one by one it will clean up street corners," Tito said. He said he feels like the project can be a success as long as the residents do their part.
"People have to report what they see," he said.
Bowman said he thinks the project will have a positive impact on the Grand Central community.
"It really makes the police look like they care and that they are making an effort," she said.
Karl Nurse, a former president of the St. Petersburg Community of Neighborhood Associations, said the move to reinstitute community policing would be helpful.
"When you're shorthanded, everything is reactive. You're just responding to the calls," he said. "As the staffing level has come up and now we get some community officers, I think you can make a noticeable difference in some of these neighborhoods. That's the first piece of the puzzle you need to turn these neighborhoods around."
Under the new program, officers will visit each home in the neighborhood to make sure they know the needs of the community.
Sara Palmer is a reporter for the Neighborhood News Bureau, a program of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Times staff writer Austin Bogues can be reached at [email protected] or (727)893-8872.