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St. Petersburg police official says concerns of black officers are broader than promotions (w/video)

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman should not hire an independent auditor to investigate the Police Department's promotion process, says Luke Williams, assistant police chief.

Williams spoke to reporters Friday to clarify concerns about unfair treatment raised by black officers, activists and clergy members Tuesday evening in a closed-door meeting with Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church.

After hearing complaints from the officers, Tomalin told the group she would halt promotions planned for April so city officials can investigate allegations of unfairness surrounding the testing and selection process.

Williams, the department's top-ranking African-American, said Friday that an auditor isn't needed since the meeting didn't focus on promotions.

"Basically, it was more than promotions that were discussed," Williams said. "The conversations were much broader than promotions."

The talks revolved on a lack of communication, a disregard for African-American leadership, department atmosphere and the inconsistent application of agency policies for black and white officers, he said Friday.

The group didn't blame Kriseman for the department's problems. They said former Mayor Bill Foster, who had a tight relationship with the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association, frequently appointed white officers with union ties.

Foster said Friday that is incorrect. "I never got involved in the promotion process," he said. "I didn't micromanage the Police Department."

Williams, a 28-year veteran, said he did not speak with Kriseman or Tomalin. Both were at an education conference in Washington, D.C., and declined to comment.

"The mayor has no further comment on this issue until the independent review is completed," said Ben Kirby, Kriseman's spokesman.

Those attending the 90-minute meeting Tuesday told Tomalin that they have no faith in the white leaders of the department.

With a nationwide search under way for a new chief, the group asked Kriseman to halt the April promotions of four sergeants and one lieutenant because a new leader could restructure the agency.

During the meeting, Tomalin initially said she and Kriseman would not interfere with interim Chief Dave DeKay's authority to make promotions. The response didn't please people.

Others warned her that Kriseman could lose support in the black community if he doesn't quell the decades-old tension between the department and African-American residents. She later declared a halt to the promotions.

Tomalin reiterated Wednesday that the decision came after hearing allegations of unfairness surrounding the testing and selection process.

The group hoped to bring bigger issues to the forefront so they could be resolved, but that hasn't happened since the focus is on promotions, Williams said Friday.

"There was a discussion that there may have been changes to the process, but no one alleged anyone did anything illegal, immoral or unethical," he said.

As the department awaits a new chief, Assistant Chief Melanie Bevan and Williams are candidates for the job. Each has a group of supporters in the agency.

By speaking publicly, Williams said he wanted to set the record straight. He said he does not fear losing his job, adding: "That doesn't preclude me from speaking the truth."

Turmoil in the agency seems partially divided along age lines.

Younger officers told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday that they didn't believe racial tensions exist, while their older colleagues talked about years of disrespect and distrust from senior white officers.

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter @markpuente.

St. Petersburg police official says concerns of black officers are broader than promotions (w/video) 03/14/14 [Last modified: Friday, March 14, 2014 11:29pm]
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