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Tuesday, Sep 23, 2014
Joe Brown Columns

New police chief is off to a good start

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Back in September, candidate Rick Kriseman asked St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster to hold off on naming a successor to police chief Chuck Harmon, who had announced his retirement, until after the upcoming election. Kriseman believed the next mayor should name the next police chief. Foster obliged.

In an earlier debate, Kriseman outlined what he thought the St. Petersburg Police Department needed to improve its performance. “It’s one thing for the police to require respect from the community, but there needs to be respect going back to our community, and I think we need to take a look at how we are running our police department,” Kriseman said. He was referring specifically to the department’s controversial chase policy and the need for better community policing.

After he was elected, Krisemen embarked on a search for a new chief. He cast a wide net for national candidates and considered some from within the department. After narrowing them down to a final four, he held community seminars so residents could meet and greet them. He sought the thoughts of council members, even though he didn’t have to do so.

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And then we waited. One local TV anchorman wondered what was taking so long, even implying that former chief Goliath Davis had a shadowy, Oz-like presence behind the curtain of City Hall to decide who the new chief would be.

Last week, Kriseman announced none of the final four would get the job. Earlier this week, he shocked us even more when he named Clearwater Police Chief Anthony Holloway as St. Petersburg’s new chief. St. Pete residents didn’t see him coming, and the folks in Clearwater didn’t see him going. This wasn’t your typical “smoke-filled room” decision, but I’m sure it feels like one to many people.

The last time I was surprised by a hire was a few years ago, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers named Greg Schiano as their head coach. There’s a big difference, however, because few can question Holloway’s qualifications.

He has done a good job in Clearwater, and city officials there are sorry to see him go. Time will tell if he can do the same thing in St. Pete.

A Bay News 9 poll showed that about one-third of respondents believe Holloway is the right choice, another third aren’t sure and a slight majority wanted Melanie Bevan, a 28-year veteran of the department who would have been the city’s first female police chief.

“Each candidate had their strengths, but ultimately none fit the criteria to successfully meet the needs of our department and community,” said Kriseman. “This process brought me clarity and led me to realize what we needed most: someone familiar with us, but not of us.”

So, did the input from the community have any influence on Kriseman’s decision? I don’t know, but I think it helped. I also believe the mayor knew that this is a position that needs a great deal of public support. It’s a fact that any chief selection is going to be heavily criticized by some, whether they are rank-and-file members of the force or “community activists” whose sole agenda seems to be finding fault with the police.

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A chief capable of bringing together police and community is perhaps too much to wish for, but Holloway seems determined to make it happen.

“I’m going to park my car, walk the neighborhoods, and talk to you,” Holloway said to the residents of St. Petersburg as he was introduced on Tuesday. “My pledge to the policing professionals of this great department is that I will meet and talk to every single one of you, as well.”

That should be enough to hush any critics, if not silence them, for now.

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