Letter: Improve the enforcement of our laws to heal our divided community

Peggy Hatton
St Augustine, FL

Dear Historic City News editor:

Attached you will find two pictures of a vagrant that is well known to the St Augustine Police Department. She’s frequently warned and arrested, she’s been repeatedly treated by first responders and transported to Flagler Hospital.

Currently, she is very sick. She talks to people downtown about her health issues and has recently been released from the hospital.  She has become a danger to herself and others. Every place she sat or touched in the city has great potential harm to visitors, residents and workers.

Evidently, she changed out of her soiled clothes at the Marina bathroom. I called solid waste to warn them about what they might find and to make sure the city employees are prepared to deal with this infected material.

By the way, the voice mail message says they will return the call “at their earliest convenience”. If you are concerned about your customer service image, you might want to change that recording to say, “as soon as is possible”.

I made a call to St Augustine Police Department and asked them to do a “welfare check” on her and return my call with her status.  Officer Brittney Garmon returned my call and said that the vagrant woman was “all cleaned up” now. We had a long talk about options dealing with her, but, sadly, there was not much Officer Garmon could do besides referring my concerns to the newly appointed officers assigned to deal with homeless persons.

Everyone is beyond frustrated with what’s going on with vagrants in the city. Most of the “campers” in the City are vagrants, and that’s the group of people I’d like to discuss. It appears that this issue must be dealt with at the state level to enact laws that get dangerous people off our streets and stop the hemorrhaging of resources by police, first responders, and our local hospitals.

I was shocked and disappointed to see that Evelyn Hammock was arrested on 2/14/19 for trespassing. To help homeless people, Evelyn has paid for bus tickets, paid for rooms, and paid for food out of her own pocket.  Evelyn calls almost every night to get people off the streets and into St Francis House. She does all of this on her own time. It’s too bad that the St Augustine Police Department didn’t avail themselves of the opportunity to work with Evelyn instead of against her. 

Her arrest has badly, maybe irreversibly, damaged relations between the St Augustine Police Department and its residents. I won’t try the case here, but this was a terrible decision.  The shockwaves will have a lasting impact.

I’d also like to point out that I have read a few inappropriate social media posts made by St Augustine Police officers of late. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and their right to free speech, but those who wear the uniform are in a unique position of power and authority over citizens. People can take aggressive posts or name calling as an implied threat.  If the police department does not have a policy on social media, they should immediately enact one — if they do, they should enforce it.

I’ve personally blocked a few of your officers and I’m very “pro” law enforcement with many active and retired police officers that I consider friends. Please consider what you can do to improve the enforcement of our laws and heal our very divided community before it gets worse.