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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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.