Friday, February 23, 2018

St. Petersburg's police chase policy merits review

I've never been a fan of the St. Petersburg Police Department's chase policy. I am not alone.

That sentiment has been echoed time and time again since the policy was reinstated in 2010.

A week ago I was able to see firsthand the effects of the policy on 54th Avenue S west of 16th Street, when things don't go as planned.

While most of us were sleeping, police gave chase to a silver Kia that rammed an officer's vehicle as he investigated an auto theft near 43rd Street S.

In this instance, I agree with the call to apprehend the brazen suspect who clearly has no respect for authority.

But I have one simple question: Does a chase require everyone on duty to participate when the order is given?

It certainly appeared to be the case Sunday morning.

Mayor Bill Foster can't seem to catch a break on this issue. Some residents complained that he was pressured to reinstate the policy after getting support from the Police Department in the last election.

However, others argue that the policy is so watered down that it limits officers in reacting in a timely fashion to apprehend suspects and avoid harm to innocent bystanders.

Here's a fair question: Upon approval from a senior official, how many units should be allowed to participate in a chase?

Residents, many heading home from a night out with friends, encountered upward of 30 police cars. At least two residents said they were nearly run off the road during the chase.

This issue has been a sore subject throughout the city. As recently as September, there have been complaints that residents were being injured because of the policy. Sunday morning, a police cruiser on the way to join the chase was involved in a crash on 54th Avenue S west of 16th Street, but thanks to quick thinking, it wasn't been worse.

The city is fortunate that Officer Timothy Reyes was the only one hurt — thankfully, he didn't sustain serious injury.

Considering the suspect in the Kia got away Sunday morning, it's due time to re-evaluate the policy.

Let's start with an audit of its effectiveness and the amount of damages the city is paying out to officers and innocent bystanders.

Political favors aside, residents deserve at least that much.

• • •

One of the city's popular and most beautiful parks is scheduled for an upgrade.

The city is seeking residents' input at a public forum at 7 p.m. Monday for proposed renovations to Lake Vista Recreation Center, 1401 62nd Ave. S.

The center, built in 1967, is long overdue for an upgrade. Current plans call for 4,000-square-foot addition for new program space, a kitchen area for special events, and adding new windows and interior improvements. The improvements will be paid for with money from Penny for Pinellas. Construction is scheduled for 2014.

• • •

Despite the citywide debate on the Pier's future, some Sunshine City professionals are moving forward.

Susan Robertson, advertising and promotions manager at the iconic attraction, has lined up a similar position just a stone's throw away.

In May, the Birchwood, at 340 Beach Drive NE, the former Grayl's Hotel, will reopen as a boutique hotel.

Residents are already buzzing about the place as weddings and events are being booked there at a fast pace.

According to Robertson, one wedding party from New Orleans has booked the entire hotel for four days in May.

The hotel will be a welcome addition to a corridor that serves as the backdrop to a host of nuptials.

Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8874. Follow @StPeteSandi on Twitter.

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