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Friday, Jul 25, 2014

St. Pete police administrators often gone on Fridays

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ST. PETERSBURG - The rank-and-file cops call it "No Impala Friday."

St. Petersburg Police Chief Chuck Harmon and many members of his administrative staff take all or part of most Fridays off, or make sure they are not scheduled to do anything, according to a review of their payroll records and the chief's calendar.

Take the chief, for instance.

His calendar from the beginning of the year through July 7 shows nothing scheduled for three out of four Fridays in January and nothing for three out of four Fridays in February. Nothing was scheduled from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on any of the Fridays in March, either. The chief went to Tallahassee for the legislative session and was there on April 5, but nothing was scheduled for any of the remaining Fridays that month.

Nothing was scheduled on Friday in May, except for a two-and-a-half hour awards ceremony on May 31. And nothing was scheduled for three out of the four Fridays in June.

"Fridays is the only day I can tell my secretary to keep things clean for me," Harmon said.

The chief said that, just because he is not at the police station, that doesn't mean he isn't working - doing things such as researching or reading internal affairs reports. Sometimes, he needs to leave the station to get such things done because otherwise he'd be interrupted in his office, Harmon said.

"Sitting here at the desk, you can't do everything you need to do," he said.

He said he understands how the rank-and-file might get the impression the administrative staff isn't around on Fridays.

"We park in the same spots," Harmon said. "They see when we are here and when we are not here. They are probably making assumptions: 'His car is not here, so he's not working.' That's the wrong assumption to make."

Harmon encourages his staff to follow his example on Fridays.

"I told them if they're going to take off, that's the best day to do it," Harmon said.

More often than not, administrative staff members take Friday as a vacation day, according to a review of payroll records.

Top administrators have a lot of vacation time to use, because most have been with the police department a long time. Harmon and his staff typically accrue 9.2 vacation hours every two weeks - the maximum allowed by the city - which equates to roughly six weeks a year. Staffers can carry over vacation from year to year - as much as 480 hours, or 12 weeks.

In addition, Harmon and many of his staff members have banked the maximum amount of sick time allowed, 1,500 hours, or about 37.5 weeks

Hypothetically, Harmon could allow one of his administrators to take both the 37.5 weeks of sick time, as long as the employee is sick, plus the 12 weeks of vacation, for a total of 49.5 weeks - just two and a half weeks shy of a full year, said Gary Cornwell, the director of the city's human resources department.

That rarely happens, but the policy has essentially allowed Harmon to permit Maj. Cedric Gordon to stay home for 11 months as Gordon deals with the physiological effects of the grief he has suffered since his daughter, a soldier with the U.S. Army, was killed in Afghanistan in October. Gordon technically will retire in September.

The Tampa Tribune looked at the payroll records for the police department's three assistant chiefs and eight majors, sent each an email documenting the time they took off on Fridays and gave each an opportunity to respond. It is unclear from Harmon's payroll records which days he took off as vacation, so the Tribune asked to view his calendar.

All three assistant chiefs responded, as did two of the police department's seven majors.

Records show that Assistant Police Chief Dave DeKay, who's in charge of criminal investigations, typically takes off at least part of every Friday. He said he does so because, otherwise, he would lose vacation time.

"I'm thinking what better way to do it than taking Friday off instead of taking a day off during the week when things are going on?" DeKay said. "By the time Friday rolls around I have things under control.

DeKay schedules personal appointments on Friday.

"It's not like I'm going home to drink beer," he said.

Assistant Police Chief Luke Williams, who's in charge of the patrol division, gave a detailed breakdown of what he was doing on each Friday he didn't work a full day, even though, compared with some of his colleagues, he hasn't taken off all that often.

He said he took off time for his own birthday, for his son's birthday, for his son's surgery. Once he took time off on a Friday because on the following day he was representing the police department at his former football coach's funeral. He also pointed out he tutors one Saturday every month for the Write Field program at the Poynter Institute and serves on several boards.

"I am here, and I do work," Williams said. "I'm not being defensive."

Some administrators said they took off on Friday for the same reasons anyone else would: doctor's appointments, school functions or as part of full weeks of vacation, taken for out-of-town family trips.

Maj. Dede Carron, who's in charge of the police district that includes downtown, said much of the time she has taken off on Fridays has been to deal with an 86-year-old father in declining health.

Even on their days off, supervisors still wind up having to deal with police matters.

"Ironically, on those partial days I never get to fully enjoy truly being on vacation," Maj. Mike Kovacsev, who's in charge of crimes against persons, said in an email. "With no exceptions I still received phone calls and emails throughout the day from personnel and respond accordingly."

Harmon made the same point.

"Just because they're off doesn't mean they're not responsible for their duties," the chief said.

"They're kind of attached to the hip with a mobile device. If we need them, the expectation is they respond, and they have."

Assistant Chief Melanie Bevan, who's in charge of administrative services, once took one of the department's satellite phones with her on vacation so she could remain in touch while on a cruise with her family, Harmon said.

Once she was in the Caribbean, though, the phone didn't work.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504

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