St. Pete Beach considers elimination of police department
Faced with a serious budget shortfall, St. Pete Beach commissioners on Tuesday moved forward with a plan to eliminate the city's police department. In a 5-0 vote, commissioners decided to put a question on the Nov. 6 ballot that would give the city the option of changing the city's charter and eliminating the department. The decision comes after city officials heard a proposal from Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to have deputies take over jurisdiction – a move city officials estimate would save the city about $2.4 million a year. "Police services are our biggest expense, and you're looking at a savings of cutting it in half, so it's something we've got to explore," St. Pete Beach Mayor Steve McFarlin said. "But again, we're going to leave it up to the people."The city's department includes 27 sworn officers, but officials say it costs more than $4 million a year to run the agency. Police Chief David Romine said eliminating the department would result in a loss of control. "There won't even be a police station on this island," Romine said. "The police station will be on Ulmerton Road, and that's where the policy decisions are going to be made – at the level of the agency head – for this community." Added St. Pete Beach resident Jeff Janson: "I just think this is a one-way street. We'll never go back to having control over our own police department once we cross this bridge." The decision to put the issue on the ballot follows a countywide trend of moving jurisdiction over to Pinellas County deputies. Dunedin, Safety Harbor and several other beach towns have eliminated their police departments in recent years.
WFLA, News Channel 8 reporter Peter Bernard contributed to this report.