The sight of a community police officer in St. Petersburg forced to put out a collection can to pay expenses in his satellite office is unseemly. That happened recently, and the incident prompted police to re-examine the community police office arrangements. Beyond the problem of what to do when a remote office runs short of cash, some officials are questioning the ethics of businesses and neighborhood associations contributing this space for police.
The situation is worth examining, but the department's aim should be to keep the field offices. They have a value beyond convenience for the officer and even the added comfort of police presence for the business host.
Community policing is supposed to be a partnership involving the city, businesses and neighborhoods throughout St. Petersburg. The city supplies the officers and the community is supposed to provide the place. This framework sets up a chance for healthy exchange: police officers can get to know their patrol areas much better; people in those areas can see up close what policing requires.
Of the 48 community police officers, those who have remote offices use them to fill out reports or return telephone calls. These offices are not the same as community resource centers, which serve the public. So they are not expected to be much. Still, maintaining even a small office costs, as Officer Mike Roberts found out.
Roberts uses space in the Fourth Street Shipping & Mailing Center for his community police office. The space and furniture in it were supplied by Nancy Butler, owner of the business. The business also pays the utility bills. Business and neighborhood associations contribute through small monthly or quarterly cash payments. Yet this month, Roberts found himself without enough cash to pay the remaining monthly bills _ telephone and supplies _ that total about $70.
The shortage prompted Butler to put a large coffee can on her counter for contributions. And that caused some wincing at police headquarters, as it should. Officials including Chief Goliath Davis said police do not solicit.
Community policing is a sound concept. Involving businesses and neighborhood associations in a partnership that requires contributions of office space, a minimum amount of furniture and some cash is acceptable _ if the police department will not pay for the space. Even if police will not pick up the bill for all of the program, the department needs some sort of contingency fund to pay for reasonable shortfalls. Collection cans don't belong in a community police office.