ST. PETERSBURG — Amid criticism from some City Council members and community activists, the Police Department is increasing its presence in three neighborhoods and cracking down on gun crimes.
Police will be more visible in the Harbordale, Childs Park and Palmetto Park neighborhoods, assistant police Chief Luke Williams said in a recent memo.
The department also plans to make more arrests for gun crimes even when victims are reluctant to cooperate.
Police also will keep a program that helps guide youths to social service agencies during the summer months and increase operations involving its street crimes and narcotics units.
The changes come as the department faces rising criticism from some members of the clergy in addition to some City Council members. A group of local churches recently met with Chief Chuck Harmon and other top police staffers to highlight hot spots of suspicious activity and drug dealing.
Yet records show crime has fallen citywide and in the Midtown area and the department has added more officers. Williams declined to specify the number of additional officers, citing investigative reasons.
"We want to improve on some of the successes we've had and modify some of those things that didn't work," Williams said.
The changes were prompted partly by community concerns about crime, especially drug dealing and gunshots, Williams said. Some people were concerned because there have been two more homicides so far this year than at the same point last year, including a high profile fatal shooting of a woman at Lake Maggiore last month.
"We looked at the statistics, and we're trying to stay ahead of the issues," Williams said.
The department's new policy on gun crimes could lead to more arrests. In the past, if someone was treated for a gunshot wound, police often would not pursue it if the victim didn't want to press charges or refused to cooperate. Now, officers will investigate anyway.
Police union president Mark Deasaro said he doubts the new gun policy will lead to more convictions because authorities often are reluctant to move forward with uncooperative victims.
Deasaro blamed recent criticism on the department's decision to eliminate a longtime community policing program. Deasaro was a community police officer. "All the squads are short on people," he said.
Wengay Newton, a City Council member who was among Harmon's toughest critics, praised the changes even as he called for more action.
"Any increase of visibility will help," said Newton, whose district includes Palmetto Park and Childs Park. "The majority of the concerns I hear about involve guns. … We need to get guns off the street."
Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8472.