Omar Manthey was drinking a 16-ounce can of Schlitz High Gravity Very Smooth Lager behind a Central Avenue laundromat about 9:20 a.m. Thursday.
The 33-year-old homeless man continued drinking even after he was approached by a St. Petersburg police officer, according to a police report.
The officer knew Manthey and had asked him a few days earlier whether he was interested in going to Pinellas Safe Harbor, the county’s homeless shelter in Clearwater, where there is an array of services, including programs for alcoholics.
Manthey told the officer he wasn’t interested then and reiterated his dislike of the place again Thursday, before the officer arrested him on a charge of drinking alcohol within 500 feet of a business that sells alcohol, the police report states.
St. Petersburg police are growing increasingly concerned over people such as Manthey, the so-called chronics, who, despite repeated arrests, refuse to take advantage of the social services put in place at Pinellas Safe Harbor, opting instead for a short trip to the Pinellas County Jail.
Manthey has taken the trip twice this year and made it 12 times last year, according to jail records. Of the 14 arrests, at least eight were alcohol-related.
The police department has just begun examining what, if anything, it can do with homeless alcoholics who don’t seem to want help, said Maj. Dede Carron.
A St. Petersburg police officer who works at Safe Harbor has compiled preliminary information and has met with representatives from the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office and Public Defender’s Office. There is not yet a firm list of how many chronic offenders the agency is dealing with, she said.
“I can definitely tell you I do think there is a problem,” Carron said. “More people want to go to jail because they say they go there, it’s time served, and the jail’s not keeping them and they come right back.”
That’s what happened with Manthey. He spent the night in jail and was released Friday afternoon, jail records show.
Over a 48-hour period last year, Manthey was arrested by St. Petersburg police on Aug. 8 on a public drinking charge, was released Aug. 9 and then was arrested by St. Petersburg police the following day on a disorderly intoxication charge.
There is a meeting scheduled soon with Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who manages Safe Harbor, and representatives from the agencies involved, including the St. Petersburg Police Department, said sheriff’s office spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda.
“We need to look at why they are choosing jail instead of Pinellas Safe Harbor,” said Sgt. Randy Morton, who’s in charge of downtown St. Petersburg, where many transients congregate. “Once we figure this situation out, we’ll come up with a strategy.”
A homeless person is likely to get back out on the street faster following a trip to the jail than he would if taken to Safe Harbor, Morton said.
Sometimes, those brought to the jail are immediately released on their own recognizance, while at the shelter they are supposed to wait until they talk to someone from the public defender’s office.
“And they don’t want to do that,” Morton said.
“If you go to the county jail, there’s a pretty quick turnaround.”
The effort to intervene is just beginning. The police department is already looking at a group of chronics routinely gathering at Williams Park, who are repeatedly choosing jail, Carron said.
“It’s still in the infant stage,” Morton said. “We’re going to have to track a group of individuals is what we are going to have to do.”
This is hardly the first time the department has dealt with a group of recalcitrant homeless people. In the late 1990s, a St. Petersburg police officer compiled a list of the city’s Top 10 drunks, with an officer driving to the courthouse to argue for stiff penalties after any of them was arrested.
But the results of the effort were mixed, and apparently short-lived.