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.

Please keep your posts clean and respectful. Comments are subject to review, and I do not permit lewdness, obscenity, or personal attacks.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Wards and Crime Don't Mix

The Gulfport municipal charter says that the city shall be divided into four wards for the purpose of electing a representative government.  Boundaries for these wards are not defined by the charter; council may alter them at any time, so long as they maintain an equitable population distribution. While population is the only thing where equality is required, it is only natural for residents to draw other comparisons between the wards. One recently popular example is crime.

The police department has never routinely measured or compared crime by ward, but online databases now allow anybody with a computer to do just that. The result is that I am now frequently asked to explain why there is a difference in crime between the wards. Although it’s never said, the implication behind this question is that crime in all four wards should be equal. The reality is that a comparison of wards based on crime is unfair and unrealistic.

Consider the fact that for many decades, the northeast area of Gulfport has typically experienced more crime than other sections of the city. Some like to suggest that this is because of its closer proximity to the much-higher-crime neighborhoods to the east. While that certainly may have some bearing, there are other factors to consider as well. For example, all three public schools are located in this area. That alone brings in an additional 3,000 people a day, effectively doubling the population of Ward 4. This area is also home to our largest retail outlets, employing scores and servicing hundreds more daily.

By contrast, Ward 1 has considerably less crime, but it is almost exclusively residential and has no institutional or large commercial establishments. Also, the majority of the homes are completely within privately-owned developments where visitors are only allowed entry with permission from those who live there.  

The police department deploys its resources based on the location of the crime, and by design, we do not allow politics or ward boundaries to factor into those decisions. This practice explains why our patrol zones do not align with the wards. Three zones cover the east side, while the west is a zone by itself. This deployment puts police officers in the best position not only to respond to crime as it occurs, but to implement prevention and abatement strategies where they are most needed.

If you are experiencing a problem in your area, please let me know, or use this page to contact a patrol supervisor directly.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

On Professionalism and Crime Watch

Last night, I made a presentation to the City Council in recognition of the police department’s achievement of Excelsior status as an accredited law enforcement agency. In technical terms, this means that we have been reaccredited five consecutive times without conditions. This is a rare and coveted honor for those of us in the business, but for Gulfport, it is so much more.

In our city, where policing is a part of our very thread, this achievement represents not just the work of the paid employees at 2401 53rd Street, but of the commitment of an entire community. Certainly I’m not saying that every resident and business owner has been actively vying to help us to continue to meet the standards over fifteen years of onsite reviews. I am saying, however, that everyone has played a vital role.

Accreditation is about professionalism, and that is represented not just in what we do as police officers but in the relationship we have with our community. Our conduct both reflects and is reflected in those we serve. The manner in which we go about our business has a direct impact on how you go about yours, and vice versa. After almost 22 years of watching this relationship develop, I can say without doubt or hesitation that I am proud of my city and my police department. We are diverse and accepting, and we make a conscious and collective effort to recognize and improve upon our weaknesses. Ours is a community of acceptance, and this is most powerful for us because we haven’t always been this way.

Recently, a member of the Facebook page for the “Gulfport Community Crime Watch” posted a comment suggesting that Gulfport consider bringing back something from a past we should not be proud of. Once upon a time, our mostly-white city discouraged our black neighbors in St. Petersburg from visiting at night. It’s said that there were signs, (official or not) that made this message clear. While I can take no action to intervene on such comments (the Constitution’s First Amendment says so), I am certainly entitled to clarify my personal and professional position in my own forum. 

Frankly, the mere suggestion of including race as a factor in deciding policy is offensive to me. It is absolutely inappropriate, and as long as I am the police chief, we will not condone it or allow it. We concentrate our efforts on specific places, locations, and people identified through professional crime analysis, period. From my perspective, this is the only acceptable way to do this job.
This is probably a good time for me to reiterate a point I tried to make in a previous blog post about crime watch programs (http://gulfportpdchief.blogspot.com/2014/08/on-volunteer-patrols.html). Any such programs in Gulfport are completely independent of the city and the police department. We provide no governance, direction, supervision, or endorsement of any kind, and the opinions expressed by members of these organizations are theirs and theirs alone. Our role is limited to that of observing and answering questions or requests for information. We also help to coordinate participation by neighboring communities. In fact, the last meeting I attended, a St. Petersburg police officer was there at our invitation.
Since the mission of crime watch groups is generally in concert with the goals of the city, they are typically allowed to conduct their meetings in city buildings free of charge. Because of this, despite our independent status, the city has a responsibility to enforce regulations against discriminatory practices. To do this without interfering with any Constitutional rights, the city will require written facility-use agreements, and these documents will clarify that the organizations must comply with the city’s human rights ordinance. Any evidence of discrimination by an organization or its members may result in the termination of the use agreement. It is our hope that this practice will ensure a fair and respectful dialogue as these organizations continue to work in partnership with the city.
While I cannot speak to the status of the “Gulfport Community Crime Watch,” it is important to note that this is not the only such group in town. Crime watch is, at its very heart, a simple and informal arrangement between neighbors. If anyone is interested in forming a crime watch organization anywhere in Gulfport, please feel welcome to contact us for information on how to get started.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Introducing the Chief's Chat

I talk a lot about how we practice community policing here in Gulfport. When I was appointed as chief, I made it clear that my department would police how our residents wanted us to police. Next month marks my five year anniversary in this position, and I think (I hope you think, at least) that I have been doing a pretty good job. I get out in the community and talk with people every day I am at work; I participate in quite a few community events; I volunteer for local service groups; and I generally feel that I have a good handle on the issues that are important to the people in this town.

That said, I think there is room for improvement. I want to open the door for even better communication. For quite some time now, I have been hosting a lunch with each of my first line supervisors. The idea is to give them each a regular forum where they can share ideas and concerns with me directly. This concept has proven to be very valuable in ensuring buy-in and commitment to our policing philosophy.

Starting next week, I’m going to apply a similar idea to communicating with the public. I’ll call it the chief’s chat, and my plan is to host a quarterly (or more frequent depending on the need) open table where folks can come in, sit down, and simply talk about whatever’s on their mind. If you want to chat about the crime trends in your neighborhood, or if you want to talk about the weather, I’ll be all ears.

The first chief’s chat will be on Sunday, February 1st at 9:00 at the McDonald’s located at 51st Street and Gulfport Blvd. I’ll show up a bit early, grab a cup of coffee, and reserve a few tables in the back. Anybody is welcome to come and share, and I will be there as long as it takes to hear what you have to say.

See you at the chief’s chat.