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St. Pete chief talks about slain officers, crime trends and homeless at Tiger Bay

ST. PETERSBURG — He did it in 2005 after one of his officers handcuffed a 5-year-old girl.

He did it again in 2007 amid public outcry after police seized tents for the homeless and slashed them with box cutters.

On Tuesday, police Chief Chuck Harmon spoke again before the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club — this time to address the shooting deaths of three of his officers earlier this year.

Harmon said no tragedy in his nearly 30 years on the force had come close to matching the Jan. 24 deaths of Officers Thomas Baitinger and Jeffrey Yaslowitz, followed a month later by the death of Officer David S. Crawford. What helped officers get through the overwhelming emotional loss, he said, was widespread community support.

"We hadn't seen that level of support before," Harmon, 51, told about 100 people who attended the luncheon at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. "It was amazing to see."

This was Harmon's fifth appearance before Tiger Bay. He spoke enthusiastically about his department and crime trends.

While the city has 13 homicides so far this year — the entire total from last year — Harmon said overall crime is down 14 percent. He displayed a lightweight bulletproof vest that "99 percent of officers" said they would wear because of added comfort. Crawford wasn't wearing a vest when he was shot.

Neither Harmon nor members of the audience mentioned homicide Detective Anthony Foster, arrested by the FBI in June on allegations that of bribery.

But asked about corruption in his department, Harmon said he had no concerns.

"We don't have that issue," he said. "We've had some individuals who have done illegal things, but it hasn't been institutional corruption."

Afterward, Harmon explained that Foster acted alone. An unnamed supervisor was included in the FBI indictment as possibly helping Foster, perhaps unwittingly.

Harmon also lauded the city's handling of the homeless. A new shelter has opened that added enough shelter space so police could begin enforcing an ordinance that prohibits sleeping on streets and sidewalks.

"I think you'll agree the city looks different," Harmon said.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.

St. Pete chief talks about slain officers, crime trends and homeless at Tiger Bay 07/19/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 19, 2011 11:39pm]
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