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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Petersburg City Council members grill Police Chief Chuck Harmon



1:35 p.m. The city will broadcast the crime workshop Friday night and Saturday and Sunday afternoons on its government channel.

1:30 p.m. Mayor Rick Baker said all city employees and residents should work together to combat crime.

After two hours of the City Council questioning his police chief, Baker offered Chuck Harmon some praise.

"I believe we have a great police department, I believe we have a great chief," Baker said.

Even if residents hate hearing about crime statistics, he said, that's how the city measures success.

"We have a safe city, it is not immune from crime.. . but it is a safe city," Baker said.

1:20 p.m. City council members said Police Chief Chuck Harmon and his officers need to take a more visible role in the community to alleviate residents fears and improve the public's perception of violence in the city.

"I want to hear from you more, you are the chief," said council member Leslie Curran. "I want to see police officers just talking to people and I think that would be a huge help in building confidence."

"I understand your statistics and that in some respects statistics can be the reality in what's occurring," said council member Jim Kennedy. "But I do think we need to work on the perception of the citizens."

12:40 p.m. City Council member Wengay Newton said the council isn't giving Police Chief Chuck Harmon a hard time just to look good in an election year. 

"You've got to understand this is the hardest part of my job," Newton said. "I get parents calling me with murdered kids and I ain't really got no answer for them and when you talk to us, it is pretty much the same."

By the way, council members Karl Nurse, Leslie Curran and Newton have alluded to the fact that they met with Harmon this week to discuss their concerns. So not only is the workshop not televised, but it seems some of this discussion has already been done in private.

Nurse, for example, has been a fierce critic of the department for years. But he just praised Harmon for his proactive policies. Did the two men work out their issues in private or is Nurse suddenly a team player? We'll let you know as soon as we can.

Continue after the jump for more.

12:18 p.m. The City Council is about to have a conservation with Harmon about his presentation. Council members each get a turn to speak.

Harmon1 12:10 p.m. Police Chief Chuck Harmon is addressing the questions city council members submitted to him Monday.

He said there are about 69 officers in the field at midnight, 123 officers during the day, and 148 at night.

He said the police department recovers about one gun from the streets each day. 

11:50 a.m. St. Petersburg has become much safer since Mayor Rick Baker named Chuck Harmon police chief, according to a series of statistics Harmon presented to the City Council this morning.

There were 15,417 crimes in 2008 compared to 16,695 in 2001. There were 3,355 violent crimes in 2008, compared to 3839 violent crimes in 2001.

There were 95 prostitution arrests in 2008 compared to 482 in 2001.

There were 8799 traffic incidents in 2008 compared to 9356 in 2001.

11:35 a.m. Police Chief Chuck Harmon began his presentation on crime to the City Council with a statement.

"Maybe some misperceive my attitude on crime," he said. "We all say one crime is one too many."

11:30 a.m. City Council member Leslie Curran wants to know why the workshop isn't being televised.

"One of those issues that we had is answering to the public," she said. "Here is a perfect opportunity to do that and we are not taking it."

Mayor Rick Baker said no one asked his staff to televise the meeting.

11.:20 a.m. The public workshop on crime is about to start.

The council meeting just ended with a plea from the parent of a homicide victim.

"I'm asking you guys to please, please help our community," said Robert Gordon, whose son and pregnant girlfriend were murdered last year in an unsolved crime. "It effects all of us and it's not going to stop."

The bodies of Jabar McNair, 26, and Mishell McDaniel, 19,were found shot and burned in the Tyrone Gardens Shopping center in February 2008.

Gordon said the police department stopped calling him a month after McNair's murder and that officers told him they were too busy working on other murders to work on his son's case.

"We don't even get a courtesy call from you guys stating that we are still working on the case," Gordon told police officers sitting in the council chambers this morning.

Police Chief Chuck Harmon told Gordon he would pass a new policy today requiring officers to contact families once a month to discuss open homicide cases.

"I'm so sorry about your loss," Harmon said.

Council member Wengay Newton said he regularly hears from families upset about their relatives unsolved murders. Some cases are still open after two years, Newton said.

"It sends the message that you can kill people and get away it," he said.

FROM EARLIER THIS MORNING: Police Chief Chuck Harmon apparently doesn't want be late to his public grilling.

Harmon2 Harmon has been waiting for at least 30 minutes in the Council Chambers for the council's workshop on crime to start. The workshop will start after the council meeting, which is starting to wind down.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement has arrived. Kobina Bantushango said he wants to raise questions about a police shooting last year that ended in the death of 17-year-old Javon Dawson.

Bantushango said he couldn't organize a group of Uhuru protesters, so it's up to him to represent their cause.

So what does that mean?

Well, by our calculations, Uhurus plus angry council members plus defensive police chief equals one interesting workshop.

We'll keep you posted.

-Cristina Silva, Times Staff Writer

[Photos: Melissa Lyttle, Times]

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:44am]


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