They're not exactly new kids on the block. But the 33 police officers who moved into the city's neighborhoods Tuesday are part of the St. Petersburg Police Department's new approach to cleaning up problem areas in neighborhoods. These problems could include everything from car thefts to code violations.
"We think that this is going to be a real step in the right direction," said Police Chief Ernest "Curt" Curtsinger. "It's going to be something out of the ordinary."
The new neighborhood policing teams hit the streets Tuesday morning in uniform, acquainting themselves with their neighborhoods and looking for trouble areas, Curtsinger said at a news conference at department headquarters. The officers went through a week of training before going into the community, he said.
The specially trained teams, 10 officers and a sergeant for each of the city's three police districts, cruised shopping centers and neighborhoods in marked cars to be seen and to watch for abandoned cars and houses as well as overgrown lots and lighting problems.
The idea for the teams comes in response to growing problems in many of the city's neighborhoods, Curtsinger said. The neighborhood policing teams were approved by the St. Petersburg City Council at the urging of Deputy Police Chief Goliath Davis, who said creating the teams would be cheaper than adding more officers to regular patrol. The City Council allocated $359,487 to hire 10 additional officers for the special patrols. Other members of the policing teams came from the department's Special Operations unit.
Shortly after Curtsinger became police chief Aug. 27, he put the program on hold, saying he didn't want another "hook and book" operation. He later decided the program was a good one.
He said the greatest benefit of neighborhood policing teams is the flexibility they have. The officers on the neighborhood policing teams will not respond to regular calls or have a regular patrol.
"Traditionally, law enforcement waits for things to happen, and we react to those things," Curtsinger said. With the new setup, "officers have the freedom to react to things they see in the community which might be an outfall of crime in the community."
The officers will work "high profile," in uniform, and undercover, Curtsinger said. He would not say how they would go about their jobs. "There's no sense in telling the crooks what we're doing," he said.
Curtsinger said the objective is to constantly show a different face in the community. The officers will be in contact with Crime Watch coordinators, and they will work closely with other city departments such as Code Enforcement, he said.
"We're almost trying to reinvent the wheel," Curtsinger said, "or at least put some new spokes in it."