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St. Petersburg police chief hopes new shift will lower downtown overtime costs

ST. PETERSBURG — Three months ago, police Chief Chuck Harmon told city leaders his department spends 300 overtime hours and $13,000 a month for downtown security.

This week, he put a new squad in the area to alleviate the strain.

Harmon said he's pulled about a dozen officers from various parts of the department to work a new 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift Wednesdays through Saturdays.

"This will impact a lot of what's going on downtown," Harmon said. "Those are typically are busiest nights."

Harmon said the new members of the team will spend the first several hours of their shift in other parts of the city, then head downtown after midnight.

The agency already has a specific unit dedicated to the area, called the downtown deployment team. But ever since the city expanded bar hours to 3 a.m. a few years ago, police costs have risen. As more officers had to be pulled downtown, response times to calls in the afternoon got longer, Harmon said.

In December, after months of debate, the City Council approved a proposal to make bars buy a permit to serve alcohol past midnight. The permit can be revoked if the establishments don't provide adequate security or have violent incidents.

Harmon, who has begun a departmentwide review of operations at the Police Department, said the new shift is temporary.

"It's a stopgap until as such time we get our other work done," he said. "This may be a very simple solution and it works, and we don't have any other issues. ... We have a lot to look at."

Harmon told council members about the plan on Thursday.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643.

St. Petersburg police chief hopes new shift will lower downtown overtime costs 02/07/13 [Last modified: Thursday, February 7, 2013 11:12pm]
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