Shooting puts spotlight back on police Chief Chuck Harmon
ST. PETERSBURG -- The murder of an 8-year-old girl as she lay sleeping in her bed could raise new questions about police Chief Chuck Harmon's leadership abilities.
Mayoral candidate Sharon Russ said the fatal shooting of Paris Whitehead-Hamiltonwas the last straw after months of violent robberies, shootings and deaths. Russ, who had previously stated that she would work with Harmon if elected mayor, said Harmon's dispassionate discussion of the shooting during a news conference Sunday convinced her that St. Petersburg needs a new top cop.
"I don't think Chuck Harmon does anything to assure the public," she said. "He needed to make a strong statement saying we are not going to tolerate this in this city."
Russ said criminals in St. Petersburg feel like they can get away with murder. Harmon has done little to combat this perception, Russ said.
Harmon, who has served as police chief since 2001, has been under scrutiny for monthsas a series of high-profile crimes have raised questions about public safety in St. Petersburg. Of the nine mayoral candidates, only one candidate, City Council member Jamie Bennett, pledged to keep Harmon on if elected.
Russ' newfound stance makes her the second mayoral candidate to vow to replace Harmon. Homeless activist Paul Congemi also said he would fire Harmon.
Meanwhile, the 8-year-old girl's death has roused the ire of other local politicos.
State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, sent out an e-mail Sunday that asked witnesses to come forward. Here it is, verbatim:
I read with great anger and frustration of the tragic unecessary death of Ms. Paris Whitehead-Hamilton. I am tired of reading and hearing about such senseless and insane killings in south st. petersburg and in particular in my legislative district. I know that there are many in my community who share this outrage and sense of what can we do to stop the killing? Many of us are doing what we can but obviously there is more we can do and more we must do.
I am urging anyone who knows anything about this killing to please tell the police. Please let us put the perpetrators of this terrible horrible act behind bars or to death if that is what the law says must occur.
If you know any young person or any person who has a gun that shouldn't have tell on them right now before any other tragedy occurs. I wish there were laws that could be passed in Tallahassee that would stop the killing but we cannot legislate our way out of certain social conditions and problems that ail us. We must take responsibility where we can to step up and do our part to stop the violence.
Cristina Silva, Times staff writer