No Voter Referendum for Gulfport Police

Cathy Salustri

Rather than make the police a charter-mandated department, Gulfport city council has asked city staff to change the city’s charter by ordinances so that it would take a supermajority, or a vote of four of the city’s five councilmembers, to no longer have its own sworn officers.

Although last year a voter petition circulated to make the city’s police department a charter-mandated department that could only be removed through a successful voter referendum, Gulfport Police Chief Rob Vincent told the Gabber he felt better about having a supermajority of the council hold the power to dissolve the department.

“It would seem a lot easier to to sway a simple majority [over 50%] of the population by a special interest group,” he said.

The Chief did say he wished the council had to unanimously vote to disband the force, but ultimately believed “the supermajority is much stronger” than a referendum.

“I wish it were unanimous,” he said.

“I think it’s going to allow the council to make a realistic decision based on what’s best for the citizens and our town. We have a financial obligation to our citizens to make the best financial decision that won’t impact them too much,” Councilwoman Barbara Banno said.

Councilwoman Banno added that she had no desire to eliminate the city’s police department. 

“I have no intention of considering it, but if our city sees another financial impact to our budget, the council would have to determine whether we wanted to raise taxes or consider outsourcing to the Sheriff,” she said. “But I think Gulfport right now is at a strong position that we don’t even have to worry about that.”

This change, which has not passed yet, will not affect the city’s ability to contract with the Sheriff for forensics, prisoner transport, and other services currently provided by the Sheriff.

Last week St. Pete Beach voters voted to remove its own charter provision for in-house policing, and Tuesday night the commission was expected to vote to contract with the Pinellas County Sheriff for police services (this edition of the Gabber went to print prior to the commission meeting; look for details online and in next week’s paper.)

“I think with a supermajority, we would have passed it. I would have voted in favor of it, given my due diligence,” St. Pete Beach Commissioner Jim Parent said. He cited the city’s financial responsibility to its citizens and the lack of a difference of service levels for his decision. “With a supermajority, I think it still would have passed.”