Thursday, June 21, 2018
News Roundup

Mayor's team takes tough look at St. Petersburg police, fire agencies

ST. PETERSBURG — The final subcommittee of Mayor Rick Kriseman's transition team issued its recommendations about public safety this weekend — and it was tough on the city's police and fire departments.

The committee members, which included a retired firefighter and assistant police chief, said staffing, training and management at both agencies need to be reviewed. Recent controversies at both departments also suggest the need for new leadership — and new direction — for both as well, the report said.

"In city government, there is no role more important than those individuals who lead the police and fire departments," the report said. "Therefore, it is imperative that the city has the right people in place to properly lead these two crucial organizations."

The group also recommended: that red-light cameras be eliminated or limited; that police receive more training in light of recent officer-involved shootings; that the city consider consolidating jobs to save money; that the policy allowing take-home police and fire vehicles be re-evaluated; and that more civilians be assigned administrative duties at fire headquarters so that high-earning firefighters can be sent back out to the stations.

"I spent a lot of my time doing this," said former Assistant Police Chief Cedric Gordon, who retired last fall after more than 30 years with the department. "And I believe a lot of what's in the report."

Not everyone was impressed.

Police union officials said they felt the report was biased and that it attacked officers.

"It should be shredded," said Michael Krohn, executive director of the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association. "This was clearly written by a team of individuals who are not pro-law enforcement. This report bashes them."

The union was particularly disheartened by the team's recommendation that a civilian with a "reputable reputation" in the black community serve on the selection committee to pick the next police chief.

The union also did not like a suggestion that GPS devices be used to examine the driving patterns and habits of officers.

The report also surmised that the number of grievances filed against officers reached a record low in the past four years because officers "are not being properly disciplined."

"This report makes it seem like we have a bunch of cowboys," Krohn said. "Nothing in here suggests what we should be doing to catch the bad person. It speaks more of the officer being the criminal or the bad person."

Krohn said he agreed with nothing in the report and hopes Kriseman doesn't follow any of its recommendations.

Other team suggestions include:

• An outside consultant should do a workload analysis to determine whether the city needs more officers.

• The city should explore whether officers who live outside the county should be charged for using take-home cars.

• Officials should consider installing diesel exhaust systems at fire stations.

• The city should train more mechanics to handle specialized emergency vehicles.

• The city should ensure race and gender diversity at both agencies, especially in senior ranks at the fire department.

The group cited the practice of shift swapping — the practice of firefighters exchanging shifts with little oversight — as a reason that the fire department needs new leadership.

Fire Chief Jim Large was unavailable for comment Saturday.

"It's citizens making recommendations to the mayor," said fire spokesman Lt. Joel Granata. "It's up to the mayor to decide what he will or will not do."

The mayor has not yet read the committee's public safety report, which is one of nine subcommittees on the transition team producing a variety of reports analyzing city functions.

"I know he wants to dedicate time to each of these reports," said Ben Kirby, the city's communication director.

Eventually Kriseman will be given a final report that would combine the work of all nine subcommittees.

Officials on Saturday said they are still working to complete that final report and don't know when it would be delivered to the new mayor. They had originally set a target date of Jan. 2.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected], (727) 893-8643 or @cornandpotatoes on Twitter.

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