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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Petersburg police chief fires back at mayoral candidates

ST. PETERSBURG — The city’s top cop is done taking shots from mayoral candidates. This week, Police Chief Chuck Harmon decided to fire back.

Well, sort of. Compared to Harmon’s usually blasé public statements, his comments to the St. Petersburg Times on Thursday were positively racy.

The subject was a Times poll that showed that 60 percent of city voters have a favorable view of the St. Petersburg Police Department.

“It’s not surprising to me that the poll showed that we’re doing a good job working with our community and doing things the right way,” Harmon said. “I would hope that the political candidates get the opportunity to see the poll and understand that crime is a complex issue.”

The chief then went on to his usual spiel about how it takes more than just a police department to defeat crime. Schools, the economy and especially the community all play a role in fighting crime, not just cops.

But the chief then accused certain candidates of deliberately misleading the public about crime and his department.

“I’m quite concerned about some of the candidates using misinformation,” Harmon said, “and some of it quite frankly is intentional misinformation and some of that bothers me.

“I’m not going to get into the details, but I’m concerned that some people are trying to take misinformation and spin it for their agenda and they’re playing on people’s emotions as it relates to crime and not giving factual information.”

He especially took issue with certain vows to, as Harmon put it, “clean house” at SPPD.

“They say crime is the No. 1 issue and rightfully so,” Harmon said. “But many of them are politicians and business people. They’re not criminologists, they’re not practitioners.

“Some of the candidates have done a good job of understanding there’s a lot of institutional knowledge here. But to take a tact that they’re going to clean house to me doesn’t make sense. Any politician is going to fail if they don’t understand the issues.”

But Harmon would not name names or give specific examples of which candidates have been misleading the public or what statements he takes issue with. Nor would he say whether he’ll endorse a candidate.

But if he does back a candidate, the chief said, he’ll name those he believes are misleading voters.

“When I endorse a candidate you will hear from me on that issue,” he said.

Mayoral hopeful Scott Wagman has been the most critical of Harmon and said he would hire a new chief if elected. Would Harmon resign immediately if Wagman wins? 

“I think Mr. Wagman’s already made his intentions clear,” the chief said.

Harmon did say he would be willing to stay on for a while to smooth the transition to a new police chief. He has six years left before retirement, but doesn’t envision staying any longer than that.

He also doesn't favor going outside the department to find his replacement. He said it hasn’t worked in the past, and that there are qualified people already in the department who could be the next chief of police.

“History speaks for itself,” he said. “There’s a lot of good people in this organization that can do the job.”

Jamal Thalji, Times staff writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:58am]


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