Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and the chiefs of the county’s two largest cities said Wednesday they support the Second Amendment but oppose open carry gun laws.
The problem, they said, comes in a crisis. If there’s one or more active shooters whom police are seeking, they’ll have a harder time telling the good guys from the bad if a lot of people have weapons.
That’s especially true after the July 7 ambush killing of five Dallas police officers, St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway said. Police under attack saw many people with weapons.
“You weren’t exactly sure who was a bad person,” Holloway said. In such a situation, he said, police have a “split second decision” in determining who’s a danger and who isn’t.
Gualtieri agreed, saying, “I adamantly oppose it. … There’s a huge, huge false narrative about that.”
Gualtieri, Holloway and Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter made their remarks in response to a question from a crowd at a packed luncheon meeting of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club. The three had been invited to discuss relations between law enforcement and the community in light of the Dallas and other such recent incidents.
The three agreed that the apparent problems being faced by law enforcement elsewhere is not a real issue in Pinellas County.
“We cannot control what happens on the national stage,” Gualtieri said. “It isn’t happening here.”
That’s in large part, they said, because there’s mutual respect between law enforcement and most Pinellas residents. That respect, they said, has to arise out of a feeling of trust on both sides. That trust is something all three departments are working to strengthen using a variety of programs.
In St. Petersburg, for example, Holloway said each of his officers is responsible for community policing. Each officer is required to park his or her patrol car for an hour and get out and walk just to get to know people and the neighborhoods.
“People fear each other because they don’t know each other,” Holloway said.
Gualtieri he’s working on a program for adults that mirrors diversion programs for kids. Kids who are arrested and charged with minor infractions can be sent to a diversion program that requires community service, for example. If the kid completes the program, the arrest can be erased from his record.
The adult program would be similar, the sheriff said. It would apply to adults who are arrested for minor infractions. Those adults would be diverted away from the courts. It would be a valuable program, he said, because not every offense is so bad that it should remain on someone’s record and ruin the rest of someone’s life. But such a program, he said, would have to be countywide.
“If it’s not countywide, it’s not fair,” Gualtieri said. “It would be unequal justice.”