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.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Use of Force Policy Review

At least once every year, we conduct a staff review of our use of force policies. We do this using a cloud-based network where all police department supervisors are invited to offer edits and feedback on suggestions by others. The process begins with a review of any recent legislation or court cases, and then we look at data from our own incidents involving use of force to see if there are any worrisome trends. 

It hasn’t been a full year yet, but I thought now would be a good time to give the policies another look. This time, the staff review will also seek feedback from our community. 

Specifically, we are looking at each of the suggestions published by the “8 can’t wait” campaign. Most of these are already incorporated into our existing policy in varying language, but we want to see if there are ways to make them more clear and understandable, both to the officers and to those we serve.

Some things to think about as we move forward with this project: 

  1. What does it mean to require an officer to intervene? Does it mean to physically stop the conduct that is perceived to be inappropriate, or is a verbal suggestion sufficient? 
  2. How do you define a “choke hold”? Is it any tactic that touches any part of the neck, or does it mean to actually compress the trachea with the intent of stopping airflow to the lungs? For example, officers are trained to use pressure points in the base of the jaw as a way to get compliance without injury. This can be a very effective and low-risk technique, but it can be easily perceived by others as a “choke hold.” Do we prohibit that?
  3. Is an outright ban on choke-holds reasonable? What if the circumstances truly warrant deadly force but the officer is, for example, pinned in such a way that he or she cannot access any weapons. Might it be reasonable under those circumstances?
  4. Is an outright ban on shooting at moving vehicles appropriate? What if the driver is trying to drive into a large crowd, as has happened quite frequently in recent times?
  5. Is it reasonable to require a verbal warning in every instance before using deadly force? Might there be circumstances where a warning could expose officers to danger or prompt an armed person to start shooting innocent people?

These are just a few of the questions that we will consider during this review, and my goal is to have policies that promote safety and professionalism without ambiguity. As I am committed to ensuring that what we do is a reflection of the values of our community, please feel free to share your thoughts.


Saturday, May 30, 2020

On the Death of George Floyd

To my friends and my community: I am shocked at the conduct of the officers involved in the death of George Floyd, and I am embarrassed for our profession. I share in your anger and frustration, but please do not let this situation influence your perception of those of us who wear a uniform. What the officers did in that case does not represent the hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers involved in millions of contacts each and every day throughout this country.

In reality, police use of force is a very rare occurrence. Rarer still when it results in death. And extremely rare when death is the result of inappropriate conduct. It's just that every time it happens, given today’s commercial and social media environment, the news spreads fast and far.

Take Gulfport for example. Over the past five years, officers have used force 171 times. That may seem like a lot, but consider that in that same time, we made 2,163 arrests while responding to 137,714 calls for service. Every one of these cases is documented and investigated for compliance with law and policy. Of the 171 incidents, there were no complaints of excessive force, and only one investigation revealed a policy violation. These ratios are typical and demonstrate how extremely unlikely it is that an individual will be involved in a use of force situation, let alone one that involves police misconduct.

And it’s not just internal reviews that hold officers accountable. Everything we do is subject to oversight by multiple levels, including the local prosecutor, state police standards board, and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

I encourage anyone who would like a closer look at how law enforcement operates on a day to day basis to participate in your local citizens’ police academy. Most agencies, including state and federal, make these programs available multiple times per year.

Or better yet, come join us and earn a badge of your own. We are always looking for the best and brightest.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Ring App May be Misleading--Be Careful

I was recently made aware of the crime reporting feature on the Ring.com neighborhood app, and I wanted to share some concerns.

It’s great when people have access to information quickly and easily, but that only helps when the information is accurate. What is being shared on this app is simply not.

When I compared the Ring weekly crime report to our own records, I found several examples of incidents that were misreported. The app was also showing reports of crimes of which we had no record. Curiously, the app does not reveal its source for the information it is reporting.

There was also a recent alert about what the app called a burglary in progress. It published this alert in the form of a news release stating that Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office was responding to a burglary in progress in Gulfport. The facts: Gulfport Police Officers responded to a call where a person reported hearing his car alarm going off. When he went outside to check it out, he saw someone walking away. Officers investigated and found no evidence that the car had been burglarized, so they reclassified the call as a suspicious person. 

It is clear that the source for this alert was the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office “active calls” website. GPD uses PCSO for dispatch, so our calls also appear on this website. If you go directly to the source and follow it, you can see as calls are updated to reflect the most recent and accurate information. Apparently the Ring app does not do this, which means a lot of people are not getting the full story.

If you use this app, which I agree has a lot of great potential, please don’t share or rely on the information without verifying the most up to date data directly from the source.

Thank you.