ST. PETERSBURG — Police Chief Anthony Holloway had a message for residents of St. Petersburg Tuesday evening: He’s going to need some help from the “good” people.
“I’m not here to promise you anything, I’m here to tell you one thing: We need to work together as a community,” he said, addressing a crowd of about 20 at the Enoch D. Davis Center.
Holloway, a recent transplant from the Clearwater Police Department, said he wants to get to know the people in St. Petersburg and talk proactively about what needs to be done in the community — before serious issues arise.
He called St. Petersburg’s churches a community “foundation” and said every month he wants to visit a different one to meet people. He also said when problems arise, he wants to meet with local ministers to discuss what can be done.
“We know who the bad people are, now we want to get to know the good people. Who are the community leaders, who is going to help us solve this problem, because we can’t do it alone,” he said.
He wants officers to be visible in the communities they protect, getting out of their cars and walking the streets to find out what’s going on and who they should get to know. “Walk and Talk” programs help form bonds between officers and civilians, he said.
Holloway plans to utilize more civil citations in place of arrests to keep minors who commit misdemeanor crimes out of jail and allow them to maintain their clean records. A criminal record can prevent individuals from finding jobs, forcing some to turn to drug dealing, drug use and other illegal activity — a trap he said can be common for teens who make mistakes early in life.
“When they have a charge on their back, all they have left to do is commit crime,” Holloway said. “We are going to work as much as possible trying to educate our kids and get our kids back into the community.”
With 29 years of law enforcement experience, Holloway said he has learned that cracking down on drugs has to be a top priority, because substance abuse often leads to prostitution, robbery and other violent crimes.
“When you talk about drugs, you gotta look at the whole big picture,” he said.
Holloway also briefly addressed the ongoing situation in Ferguson, Missouri, where a teenager was shot multiple times by a police officer. He said discussing community issues and finding out what people want his department to do is something that would prevent tension in St. Petersburg from escalating to a boiling point.
Manuel Sykes, pastor at Bethel Community Baptist Church and president of the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, introduced Holloway and emphasized the importance of working with him and the department in the future.
“We have a storied history here with our respect to our police community relations, and I believe that all of us are hopeful to see a new day come out of it,” Sykes said. “Every new leader deserves cooperation and respect to implement what his vision is.”
Holloway asked for help and understanding as he adjusts to his new job, a role he said he is unlikely to perfect.
“Everybody in this room has made a mistake in their life; if you haven’t, I’ll come work for you,” he said. “This badge gives me power to do certain things, but it doesn’t make me a God.”