Wednesday, November 22, 2017
News Roundup

Romano: Picking police chief from outside has risks, but it may be the best course right now

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The applications are all in, and the parsing of resumes is winding down.

By week's end, the outside consultants will have cut the list from 75 to a dozen or so candidates in the quest to find St. Petersburg's next chief of police.

I do not envy the task of Mayor Rick Kriseman once he is handed that list because I have a feeling he may find two things to be true:

No. 1, the best candidates already work here.

No. 2, it may be wise to ignore those candidates.

Seven months ago, I suggested the city would be better off looking seriously at internal candidates Melanie Bevan and Luke Williams because a familiarity with the history and vibe of St. Petersburg is essential to the job.

But that was before recently reported rifts in the Police Department made the hiring of an internal candidate seem a more risky proposition than it once was. Maybe the unrest is not as severe as it appears, but it's hard to imagine that hiring either Bevan or Williams won't lead to additional hand-wringing.

It is not just a racial divide in the department, although that seems to play a part. There is also a generational divide. And a split in union ranks.

In the end, there seems to be enough differing factions inside St. Petersburg's police station that hiring internally could make things far worse before they get better.

Yet everything else I believed seven months ago about the downside of hiring an outside candidate still holds true today. And that puts Kriseman in a tough spot.

Conducting a national search for a police chief sounds like a good idea — heck, it is a good idea — but this job is more nuanced than simply finding the best application.

The truth is, the most attractive candidates in cities of similar size to St. Petersburg are probably not going to be banging on the mayor's door asking for a chance.

After all, the pay is not likely to be better than other metropolitan areas. And the reports of cliques within the department, not to mention long-simmering concerns about police behavior in the city's African-American communities, are not going to make the job seem terribly enticing.

So that probably means St. Petersburg is going to get a lot of candidates with question marks. Maybe they're coming from a much smaller city. Maybe they're a less-experienced cop from a bigger city. Or maybe they have baggage of their own, which is why they're willing to relocate.

Obviously, I haven't seen the 75 or so applications the consulting firm has collected. And it's entirely possible there is one candidate who will make the hire seem like a no-brainer.

In fact, when the announcement finally arrives in the coming months, I'll bet that is precisely how the mayor sells it.

It feels like we're entering a new era in St. Petersburg. A new mayor. A new pier. A new police station. A downtown that may be re-imagined, depending on the fate of the Rays.

The hiring of a police chief is going to figure prominently into that equation.

I firmly believe there is a risk in hiring an outside candidate who is unfamiliar with the peculiarities and politics of this city.

Unfortunately, at the moment, it is an even greater risk to go with someone on the inside.

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