St. Petersburg Police Chief Chuck Harmon: public safety is expensive
ST. PETERSBURG - Police Chief Chuck Harmon hears it all the time. People want a bigger police presence. In their neighborhood.
Which is all well and fine, until you talk numbers. Round-the-clock police coverage would cost $500,000 - a street, Harmon told a crowd of elected and political insiders during a Suncoast Tiger Bay luncheon Thursday.
Protecting one street for 24 hours would require five shifts of officers at a cost of about $100,000 annually per officer, he said. The Police Department already eats up most of the city's general budget, and additional dollars for salary would require money currently going toward libraries, recreation centers and the fire department, programs that help curb crime, Harmon said.
Given the budget constraints, Harmon said he feels the department's current size is sufficient. The department stands to reach its goal of 540 officers next month.
"There's only so much money to go around," he said.
Harmon, whose management abilities have been both praised and criticized by the mayoral candidates, gave an overview of his accomplishments Thursday and talked about challenges still facing the city. Many of the nine candidates running for mayor were in the packed audience.
Harmon said one of his proudest accomplishments was the relationships his officers have formed with residents. There were fewer than 70 complaints filed against police officers last year.
Harmon briefly discussed the mayoral race. The next mayor should be honorable and trustworthy, he said, but declined to name which of the nine mayoral candidates possess those qualities.
He also addressed calls for an outside candidate to lead the Police Department. Mayoral hopefuls Sharon Russ, Scott Wagman and Paul Congemi have said they would likely replace Harmon. Only candidate Jamie Bennett said he would definitely keep Harmon on.
After Harmon's talk Thursday, Wagman's opinion of Harmon seemed unchanged. Wagman said a police chief's job is to fight for more officers, not worry about the money. Wagman said he believes the department needs at least 50 more officers.
Cristina Silva, Times staff writer