ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — St. Petersburg Police are preparing to pull nearly three dozen officers off the streets, and put them in schools.
Chief Anthony Holloway says he is forced to disband the entire gang unit and more than half of the community policing unit in order to shuffle those officers into schools and meet the new school security mandate.
Suzanne Foley says it's a change that has to be made. The St. Pete mom has two daughters, one in elementary school and one in high school.
“I worry about my kids' safety every single day. My children are my treasures and I have to feel comfortable sending them to school and knowing they’re ok,” Foley added.
St. Petersburg is preparing to quadruple the number of school resource officers, adding one to every school and an extra officer at Gibbs and Northeast High Schools.
Yet, it comes at a price, those 33 extra officers will be pulled off the streets.
“Over the last couple of years it has been great around here and I think if they cut that, there may be more gang activity and things like that," Jimmy Whitehead a resident of St Pete explained.
Whitehead is stunned by the fact that there will be fewer officers in his neighborhood. He's especially impressed by community policing officers, which are the ones you’ve seen on 4-wheelers busting criminals, meeting with neighborhood leaders, patrolling your neighborhood and building relationships.
“Just seeing them and having that face to face interaction like I know that guy he’s not bad…it makes a huge difference," Whitehead added.
Chief Holloway says he has no choice. He doesn’t have the time or the money to hire new officers, so he’s forced to make due with the officers he already has to staff a total of 44 school resource officer positions (33 of which are new).
“It’s very frustrating but our job is to keep the community safe and schools are part of the community so we will make it happen,” Holloway said.
Holloway hopes the move doesn’t impact crime, which is at it’s lowest level in 17 years in St. Petersburg.
These are tough decisions being made across the state, as law enforcement agencies scramble to either hire more school resource officers or shuffle existing officers before July 1.