Saturday, May 26, 2018
Public safety

St. Petersburg police solve downtown overtime issue with new squad


For the past two years, the city has grappled with the hidden cost of a booming downtown scene.

Overtime for police officers who patrolled the large weekend crowds skyrocketed to 300 hours a month. City leaders held countless meetings and created regulations for bars that wanted to stay open later. They prodded business owners to pitch in for security themselves, a plan that fell apart over and over.

Police officials now think they've finally solved the problem with a simple shift change.

"I'm not even sure we're getting any overtime from downtown anymore," said St. Petersburg police Maj. Sharon "DeDe" Carron, whose district includes downtown. "It's very minimal."

Carron and her boss, police Chief Chuck Harmon, credit the department's new "relief" squad with virtually eliminating downtown overtime.

Response times also are improving, she said.

Response times for late afternoon and evening, for both priority and nonemergency calls, had become an issue because there weren't as many officers to respond to incidents during the day because they were spending more time policing at night.

The 12-officer relief squad, put in place in February, works 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, a shift that previously didn't exist.

Now, Carron said, less than five overtime hours a week are generated from patrolling downtown.

That's a drastic drop from late last year, when Harmon told City Council members that his agency was paying for hundreds of extra hours each month. The cost to taxpayers? About $13,000 a month, the chief said.

When Harmon announced the squad, he indicated it would be a temporary experiment.

On Friday, he said the unit will stay.

Why did it take so long to come up with this solution?

"After the ordinance change, we weren't really sure what we were going to get," Harmon said. "And then we were able to use overtime, but we knew that wasn't going to be a long-term solution."

City leaders also repeatedly tried to get input from businesses. They asked bars to help pay for off-duty officers and, for a brief time, several bars formed an alliance to do that. But the effort fell apart when some establishments said they weren't getting cooperation from many of those who got the protection whether they paid or not.

"It kind of came to the point that if they weren't going to hire security, we had to do something," Carron said.

Sgt. Spyro Lefkimiotis is in charge of the new squad, made up of four officers from each of the department's three districts.

He said it is effective because officers spend the first several hours of their shift in other parts of the city, then head downtown at night.

They patrol on bikes, in golf carts and on foot, providing extra help before and after last call to an existing downtown deployment team.

And if, for instance, a bar — downtown or in other areas of the city — has a big event or crowd earlier in the week, the relief squad adjusts.

"The squad is pretty flexible," Lefkimiotis said. "They love it."

Harmon said that although overtime has been reduced, officers are still dealing with some issues downtown.

Carron and other police officers recently told City Council members they'd like to tackle the issue of glass bottles, which they said become hazardous during large events like First Friday. They also have been offering suggestions to strengthen the rules about sidewalk cafes, which present challenges on big nights downtown.

"There's a number of little challenges," Harmon said. "Things have been working well."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.


Her husband wouldn’t apologize to her father — so she shot him, police say

RIVERVIEW — A Riverview woman was arrested Saturday after allegedly shooting and killing her husband because he refused to apologize for punching her father, the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office reports. Sabrina Michelle Hendley, 30, of 10518 Anglecrest...
Updated: 20 minutes ago

Police investigating shooting outside nightclub

ST. PETERSBURG — Police are investigating a fatal shooting that occurred outside a south St. Petersburg nightclub early Saturday morning.Brennan-Aire D. Williams, 28, was pronounced dead shortly after arriving by cab at Bayfront Health. Police invest...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Hernando officials seize 36 neglected dogs from sanctuary

Hernando officials seize 36 neglected dogs from sanctuary

WEEKI WACHEE — A woman who runs an animal sanctuary will face dozens of animal cruelty charges after Hernando County animal enforcement officers said they found dogs, equine, pigs, cats and chickens housed in poor conditions on her property.Animal of...
Published: 05/26/18
Quick action to slow traffic on Bayshore prompts call to do more citywide

Quick action to slow traffic on Bayshore prompts call to do more citywide

TAMPA — As city workers set up signs Friday establishing a lower speed limit on Bayshore Boulevard, neighborhood residents and transportation activists urged more steps to improve safety for pedestrians all across the city.The move is a good beginnin...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
Police: Driver in fatal Bayshore faces new charge in child’s death

Police: Driver in fatal Bayshore faces new charge in child’s death

The 18-year-old who was arrested this week after police said he was racing when he fatally struck a young mother pushing her stroller across Bayshore Boulevard was back in jail on Friday night.Cameron Herrin, 18, was arrested on a second count of veh...
Published: 05/25/18
Five members of 69ers motorcycle gang indicted on federal charges

Five members of 69ers motorcycle gang indicted on federal charges

Last year three members of the 69ers Motorcycle Club gang were implicated in the execution of a rival gang leader in the middle of rush hour traffic in Pasco County.Now those three and two other 69ers members have been indicted on federal charges tha...
Published: 05/25/18

Raccoon bites bicyclist, now the Health Department is looking for the victim

TAMPA — A bicyclist in the Palm River area was bitten by a raccoon Friday morning, the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County said.Now the department is concerned the animal had rabies and is searching for the bicyclist."While it is impo...
Published: 05/25/18

Police: Baby not abandoned; mother surrendered infant

TAMPA — A newborn baby initially thought to be found on the ground near a trash can in north Tampa was not abandoned, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said Friday.The child’s mother gave birth to the boy Thursday, and she and someone else too...
Published: 05/25/18
Student says science teacher tackled Indiana school shooter

Student says science teacher tackled Indiana school shooter

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — A male student opened fire at a suburban Indianapolis middle school Friday morning, wounding another student and a teacher before being taken into custody, authorities said. Seventh-grader Ethan Stonebraker said the science teache...
Published: 05/25/18

Woman, dog die trying to cross U.S. 19 in Hudson

PORT RICHEY— An unidentified 45-year-old Colorado woman and her dog died early Friday morning when they walked into the path of two vehicles on U.S. 19, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The woman was walking her dog around 5:40 a.m. across U.S...
Published: 05/25/18