ST. PETERSBURG — Police Chief Chuck Harmon hears it all the time. People want more police in their neighborhood.
Which sounds good, until you talk numbers. Round-the-clock police coverage would cost $500,000 per street, Harmon told a crowd of elected and political insiders Thursday during a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon.
Protecting one street for 24 hours would require five officers at an annual cost of about $100,000 per officer, he said. The Police Department already eats up most of the city's general budget, and additional salary dollars would require money currently going toward libraries, recreation centers and the Fire Department, programs that help curb crime, Harmon said.
The department's current size is sufficient, he said, adding that the department will reach its goal of 540 officers next month.
"There's only so much money to go around," he said.
Harmon, whose management style has been both criticized and praised by the nine candidates vying for mayor, gave an overview of his accomplishments and talked about challenges ahead.
Harmon said he is most proud of the positive interactions his officers have with residents. The department received fewer than 70 complaints about individual officers last year, he said.
Harmon also addressed calls for an outside candidate to lead the department. Mayoral hopefuls Scott Wagman, Sharon Russ and Paul Congemi have said they would probably replace Harmon. Only Jamie Bennett has said he would definitely keep him.
Harmon said the department is best led by an internal candidate who has risen through the ranks, as he has.