This is the blog for Robert Vincent, Chief of Police for the Gulfport (Florida) Police Department. Please feel free to leave comments, but keep in mind that anything appearing on this page may be subject to retention and disclosure in accordance with Florida public records law.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

On Volunteer Patrols

We have a neighbor here in Gulfport by the name of Al Santos who volunteers his time to patrol the streets looking for anything suspicious. Al rides a red scooter and wears an orange vest with the words “Citizen on Patrol” printed front and back. He covers about 15 miles a day driving around town, and his self-proclaimed mission is to “call police if I see anything worth reporting.” Al introduced himself to me by way of an e-mail to let me know what he was doing. My response: “thank you for your service!”

I have no objection to volunteer patrols, whether they be an individual effort like Al’s, or something more organized like the Guardian Angels organization. People have the right to move about on public property, and I see no reason to oppose anyone who is trying to make the community safer. In fact, I will even offer these folks information and support to help them provide the best service while keeping safe in the process. One common tip: you're not the police; do not intervene, report. 

This being the case, many question why GPD doesn’t have its own citizen patrol unit. With the recent resurgence of a crime watch program led by longtime resident, Ernie Stone, many have noted the conspicuous detachment of the Gulfport Police Department from programs of this nature. So, why don’t we run the crime watch? Why don’t we organize volunteer patrols? Why don’t we endorse or solicit such programs?

The answer is actually pretty simple. I believe our commitment to these kinds of activities should be all or none. If we do not have the resources to recruit, screen, train, equip, and supervise the people involved in crime watch and citizen patrols, then we have no business trying to run their programs. Even a little. The moment we affiliate ourselves with just a small portion of what these people do, the city could become completely responsible for all of their actions. Unless and until we are prepared to accept that responsibility, we cannot and should not get involved.

Absent the significant financial commitment required to properly run these programs, GPD will continue its long-standing practice of providing information and support to the independent volunteers like Al and Ernie while they exercise their right to do their own thing.