St. Pete Police paid $68,000 for a robo-call service they’ve used twice in two years

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The St. Petersburg Police Department has spent $68,000 since 2010 for a service they’ve used twice. By the end of this year, that tab will be up to $85,000.

So, what do your tax dollars buy for $17,000 a year? Two robo-calls from a company called First Call.

The first call went out in March of 2012. It was letting residents in a Northeast St. Pete neighborhood know that police would be doing a training nearby and they might hear some simulated gun shots.

The second went out Monday with some pretty basic advice for 600 residents in Old Northeast.

Lock your cars.

“This is a public safety alert from the St. Petersburg Police Dept. We’ve seen an increase in car burglaries in your neighborhood… almost all involved cars left unlocked. Please lock your car doors and keep valuables out of sight, especially between 11pm and 4am. Call police if you see anyone suspicious in your neighborhood.”

Over the past six weeks there have been 30 reported thefts in that neighborhood.

The agency keeps the service on hand so they can easily get out emergency messages to residents. It could be used to send messages about a missing child or some kind of disaster. But it hasn’t been.

The agency says the reason the service hasn’t been used regularly is because it carefully vets when it’s needed.

“We don’t cry wolf with it or [use it to] tell residents about a neighborhood watch meetings,” said Yolanda Fernandez, a spokesperson for St. Pete Police.

The latest call went out after the city noticed an uptick in auto burglaries throughout the city. In July alone there were 600. Twenty of those were in Old North East over the course of just one weekend.

That’s why the city limited the call to just that neighborhood. Folks in say, South St. Pete or Jungle Prada, Midtown or Kenwood, they apparently don’t need this particular public service announcement.

If you’re not interested in getting a robo-call from St. Pete PD every couple years or so, you can call the agency’s public relations office to be removed from the list.

First Call gets its data from a combination of three sources, publically available data, 911 data and from citizens who have opted into its program.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.