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.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Going to the Dogs

I get a lot of questions about dogs. In particular, folks want to know what the city can do when it comes to stray dogs or those that are otherwise on the loose in public. Since the answer can be kind of complicated, I thought it would be best to write it up and publish it as a kind of reference.

First, it is always illegal to allow any dog to be off leash on any public property or on the property of another person without permission. This is a violation of the Gulfport City Code. Any time a Gulfport officer responds to a call about a loose dog, he or she will attempt to identify an owner who can be held accountable. This can be easy if the dog is properly tagged, and if the officer can catch the dog. We have some basic training and equipment for this purpose, but we are not professional animal trappers. However, if we can’t round up the dog in a reasonable time, we’ll have to move on to more important matters. Also, unless there is evidence that the dog is being aggressive towards humans, we won’t use weapons to stop the dog. Catching strays is something we try to do when we can, but it’s simply not our mission.

Pinellas County government has an animal services unit, but they will not pursue non-violent strays either. They will respond and collect any stray dogs that have been caught and restrained, but the bottom line is that there is no “dog-catcher” in Pinellas County or the City of Gulfport.

When we can identify the owner of a loose dog, officers will check for prior violations and can issue citations for violations when appropriate. If the report involves an attack of some kind against a person or another domestic animal, the officer will document the incident appropriately. When evidence accumulates to prove that a dog has repeatedly been violent, the dog may be declared dangerous under Florida law. Once such a declaration has been imposed, the owner may face criminal charges for future violations, and the dog may be seized and euthanized. 

In the past year, Gulfport officers have responded to 477 calls concerning issues with animals.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Second Chance for Minor Crimes

You may have heard recently about a program being launched in Pinellas County that will allow certain adult offenders a chance to avoid criminal prosecution. I am happy to announce that the Gulfport Police Department is a strong supporter of this program.

Complete details have not been published yet, but the basic idea is that law enforcement officers will likely soon have the option of referring minor offenses to a diversion program rather than the state attorney's office. The goal will be to recognize that even good people make mistakes once in a while, and we want to help these people to succeed rather than to impede their progress in careers and education.

Eligibility for this program will be limited to just a few misdemeanors will be eligible, and the proposed list includes things like possession of small amounts of marijuana, petit theft, and assault or battery with no or very minor injury. A complete list has been reviewed and endorsed by all law enforcement executives in the county, but it is still pending approval by elected officials in St. Petersburg, which had already been considering a similar program that would have been implemented via city ordinance.

The program is designed to help those who make one or two mistakes; it will not be offered to chronic or repeat offenders. Officers will check criminal history records before making any referrals, and those with relatively recent convictions will not be eligible to participate. Also, there will be a limit to the number of times an individual may take advantage of the diversion program. We want people to make appropriate lifestyle changes, and if they can't do that, then they will continue to be processed in the courts.

Once in the program, those who do not comply with the terms (community service, for example) may end up being criminally charged, and they may not be eligible for future diversions. Successful completion will mean no arrest or criminal record that could show up in a background check.

As Chief of Gulfport Police, I have been at the table for every step of the development of this program, and once it comes into operation, I will ensure that our officers make use of it appropriately. I am thankful for the work the sheriff's office has done and will do to oversee the details of the program, but I am also proud that this is a product of the entire Pinellas County law enforcement community. We work very well together, and this program will be a great example of how our diverse and varied communities can work for the good of all.