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Thursday, Oct 23, 2014

St. Pete police have high hopes for new chief

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Published:   |   Updated: March 27, 2014 at 12:05 AM

ST. PETERSBURG — One city police officer wants a chief who is a strong leader with a public profile.

Another wants someone who remains connected to the troops.

A third wants someone who keeps up with the latest in law enforcement trends.

These were among the opinions expressed in 19 emails recently sent to Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office after he solicited rank-and-file input about what kind of police chief the city should hire. Former Chief Chuck Harmon retired in January, and an assistant chief is running the agency until a replacement is chosen.

“First, we need a true leader,” wrote Detective Pam Marland. “We need someone who is going stand up for the troops when they do the right thing and appreciate their hard work.

“They need to be in touch with the troops as the troops are the backbone of the agency,” Marland wrote.

But some officers who took up Kriseman’s offer touched on other topics — including what they described as unfounded accusations of racism aired at a March 11 closed-door meeting at a church. The meeting was attended by Assistant Chief Luke Williams, the highest-ranking black officer in the department, and Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, the highest-ranking black official in Kriseman’s administration.

As a result, Kriseman put on hold a promotions process under which few, if any, blacks would have advanced because of their poor rankings on the lists for prospective sergeants and lieutenants. Some of the officers who sent emails to Kriseman were non-black officers who were high on the lists.

“I have never, in my nearly five years with the department, seen even an instance of implied racism between any ethnic groups in the department,” Officer Ben Whetstone wrote.

“Please let me assure you that the front line personnel stand together as one, and we all see one color ... green,” wrote Sgt. James “J.D.” Lofton. “We need a police chief that actually understands that.”

Ricardo Lopez, a Hispanic whose parents fled from Cuba, noted he had repeatedly ranked high on the sergeant’s list, but now any advancement is a dream deferred.

“Now I could sit here and whine and complain to anyone that would listen that there are no Hispanic sergeants or lieutenants, that there is only ONE Hispanic person of rank, who was promoted over 12 years ago,” Lopez wrote, “but I would be no better than what is going on right now.”

Stephen Mandakis is another officer whose career has been put on hold because of the allegations of racism.

“I was #1 on the last promotional list and I am again #1 on the current lieutenant list,” wrote Mandakis, who’s been an acting lieutenant for more than a year.

“I feel insulted that anyone would suggest there was any tampering or in any way the results were affected by race,” Mandakis wrote. “Maybe I’m naive but in 2014, I would have hoped we were finally to a point where we would pick the best person for the job regardless of race or gender.”

While some were critical of Assistant Chief Williams for his presence at the meeting — without mentioning him by name — about a half-dozen of the respondents recommended Kriseman pick another assistant chief for the top job, Melanie Bevan.

None of the respondents recommended Williams.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504.

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