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Tuesday, Jul 17, 2018
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6 months in, St. Pete’s police chief making strides

Stepping into his new role as this city’s police chief six months ago, Anthony Holloway wasn’t sure what to expect.

After a national search for St. Petersburg’s new chief, Mayor Rick Kriseman discarded those candidates and hired the leader of neighboring Clearwater’s police department.

While Holloway was familiar with the area, he still felt like the new kid in school.

“I was looking for some, ‘This outsider coming into our city, who is he?’ and stuff like that. Everybody’s been very open; everybody’s been very honest,” Holloway said.

He has been accepted, the chief said, and is receiving support from police officers on initiatives he has launched since coming aboard in August. He was nervous about jumping to a larger department, one that serves more than twice as many people as Clearwater’s force. But the chief said he has found the job is not as different as he had anticipated.

“The biggest issue is people don’t want crime in their communities,” he said. “What I found out, it’s just the same thing. Same problems, same issues, just more of them. ... It’s still the same people, just a different town.”

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One of Holloway’s biggest undertakings has been introducing the “Park, Walk and Talk” program which requires officers periodically to get out of their cruisers and walk their beats, talking to people about what issues they see in their neighborhoods.

The program already has fostered a better relationship between police and the community, the chief said. The number of tips coming into the department has increased, allowing the department to look at problem areas it otherwise might not have known about, such as drug houses.

Other than that, he said, the department is doing a better job of using data to figure out where crime is happening, tracking hot spots to figure out what crimes are occurring where, and updating its Facebook page to keep the community engaged.

“We’re being more transparent. I don’t know what the old regime was, but I know we’re being seen in a different light and that people are starting to come to us more,” he said.

Holloway wants residents to “buy in” to policing St. Petersburg, a community with a growing and bustling downtown area that is on the rise. The department’s 550 officers can’t do it all on their own, he said, and fixing the community’s issues starts with the people living on every street and in each neighborhood.

“If we all get together, we can get rid of the criminal element — well not all of it, but a large amount of it — and just make this a safe place,” he said.

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Ed Carlson, chair of the Council of Neighborhood Associations’ public safety committee, said Holloway fits his ideal image of a chief of police. Carlson described the chief as being like a commanding officer — Holloway wears a police uniform rather than a suit — who has increased the morale of officers.

Where he lives in northwest St. Petersburg, Carlson said, he doesn’t see a lot of neighborhood crime. But after telling the chief he hoped to see a greater police presence in his neighborhood, Carlson noticed a difference.

“When people see a police car, they tend to behave better,” Carlson said.

Carlson said he is enthused by what he has seen from the chief so far.

Peter Motzenbecker, president of the Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood Association, said he has not seen a change in police presence in his neighborhood since Holloway took over the department. Motzenbecker said he has invited Holloway to attend one of his association’s meetings in June.

Holloway started in Clearwater as an officer in 1985, working his way up the ranks before leaving in 2007 to be chief of police in Somerville, Mass. In February 2010 he returned to Clearwater as chief, before jumping to St. Petersburg in August.

While he is no newcomer to being a chief, there are challenges that come with moving to a new department. When he and his wife talked about the new position, they knew he would put in a lot of time getting to know the community.

“So we’re talking six days. Sometimes we’re talking long days, and we both understood that and both accept it,” he said. “I’ll drive these guys and gals crazy, I’ll turn the radio on, listen to the calls,” he said. “So I guess other people do different things for excitement or fun; I just turn on the radio and listen to the different districts.”

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Holloway spends a lot of time worrying, he said, and if any police chief says they don’t they’re lying. Holloway and his wife don’t have children, but Holloway likes to think he has 753 of them — the number of sworn and civilian personnel working in the department.

“As you move up in an organization, the worries go up,” he said. “It’s hard. A good day is no one got hurt today.”

Being a police chief isn’t anything like what he envisioned when he started out an as officer.

“I remember thinking, ‘God, that guy doesn’t do anything. You know, he comes in, goes in his office, signs a couple of things, assigns tasks and you never see him again,” he said. “Once you take the job you’re like, man you do a lot of work. And you do a lot of worrying, because you worry about the officers then you worry about the community.”

He wakes up every morning between 5 and 5:30 a.m., and checks to make sure there weren’t any problems overnight. If there weren’t any issues, the day is off to a normal start. But the concept of a normal day ends when he walks through the doors of the police station.

“Walking into this office, there’s nothing normal,” he said. “You kind of almost wait for the next wave, I call it. But then you have to prepare for that wave; you have to see that wave coming, and when that wave is on shore it’s too late because there’s another one coming and you have to prepare for that.”

In everything, Holloway says he must consider the worst case scenario. If a SWAT standoff had gone another way, or if an officer were injured on a call.

“There’s a lot of ‘what ifs’ in this job,” he said. “That’s a normal day, when I don’t have to answer those what ifs.”

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