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Thursday, Sep 18, 2014

St. Pete chief finalists take questions from public

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Published:   |   Updated: June 20, 2014 at 05:33 AM

ST. PETERSBURG — St. Petersburg Assistant Police Chief Melanie Bevan took a selfie with a former student who had stopped by, as she spoke of the importance of mentoring.

Thaddeus Reddish, the assistant police chief of the New Haven, Conn., police department, he told the mayor he could bring 20 officers with him, such was their devotion to him as a leader.

Jerry Geier, the police chief in Goodyear, Ariz., had on a table behind him a slick mini-magazine, replete with photographs showcasing his accomplishments.

And Terrence Pierce, the director of criminal investigations for the Montgomery County police department in Rockville, Maryland, attacked the St. Petersburg Police Department’s community policing philosophy.

For the first, and last, time, the four finalists for the chief of police job in St. Petersburg were made available to the general public on Thursday, taking questions from a crowd of several dozen as they stood at opposite corners inside the Coliseum, a venue more typically used for banquets and dances.

They were grilled on a variety of topics, ranging from wearable cameras and pursuit policies to marijuana laws and a perception that black residents on the city’s south side are treated with more disrespect by officers than their white counterparts on the north side.

“I see how the city changes when you get to certain parts of the city,” Reddish, the only black candidate, told a small group. “I see the haves and I see the have-nots.”

Pierce said the department has losts its way with community policing, a philosophy where officers are typically assigned to neighborhoods to address any problems that arise.

“This city has unfortunately changed its philosophy for the worst,” said Pierce. “We’re going to have to go back to putting officers back into the community so they see faces.”

Geier echoed the same sentiment, saying the department had to rebuild trust in the community.

“It’s not all about going in and arresting everyone you can,” he said. “That’s why the community policing programs are so important.”

Bevan, the only inside candidate, was asked about the possiblity of officers wearing cameras on their shirts, an inquiry which prompted her to reflect on how police managers have to make themselves aware of emerging technologies.

In years past, she said several times throughout the night, officers had a lot of discretion and their actions weren’t scrutinized much. Now, with technology such as cell phones equipped with cameras, officers may find what they are doing recorded, which means they might have less discretion in how they do their jobs.

“I don’t think we should be fearful of a community evaluating that discretion,” she said.

Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office has not said when a decision on a new chief will be made. Former Police Chuck Harmon retired in January, and Assistant Police Chief Dave DeKay has been the interim police chief since then.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504.

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