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Mayor Rick Kriseman eliminates three candidates for St. Petersburg police chief

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman eliminated three of the four finalists to head the police department on Saturday, including a popular internal candidate, while the fourth finalist said he had yet to hear from Kriseman.

Meanwhile, speculation is growing that Kriseman is courting a mystery candidate who was not among the finalists.

Kriseman did not return phone calls Saturday, and Ben Kirby, the mayor's communications director, would not comment, other than to say that an announcement naming the next chief will come this week.

Out of contention are St. Petersburg Assistant Chief Melanie Bevan, retired New Haven (Conn.) Assistant Chief Thaddeus Reddish and Terrence Pierce, a captain at the Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland.

Bevan had been seen as a favorite by many city leaders and residents.

Left standing is Jerry Geier, 52, who runs a small police department in Arizona. But Geier told the Tampa Bay Times he had not been offered the job or heard from Kriseman.

St. Petersburg has been without a permanent police chief since January, when Chuck Harmon retired after 12 years. His successor will be in charge of 750 employees and a $90 million annual budget.

If that person is Geier, it would be a homecoming of sorts. Geier spent most of his law enforcement career in Florida, working for the sheriff's offices in Orange and Osceola counties, as well as the state's Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.

In his application, Geier wrote that his family is ready to return to Florida. He is married and has two children.

Geier also touted himself as a turnaround man in his application. He said he's been able to make the 128-employee department in Goodyear, Ariz., a "model police agency." Before Goodyear, he was the chief in Yuma, Ariz.

The fact that Geier hasn't heard from Kriseman, however, raises the possibility that someone else is Kriseman's first choice. One name surfacing Saturday: current Clearwater Police Chief Tony Holloway.

Cleawater City Manager Bill Horne declined to comment. Holloway is on vacation and could not be reached.

Holloway, 52, has been the chief in Clearwater since 2010 and has deep ties to Pinellas County. He rose through the ranks in Clearwater and became the city's first African-American captain before leaving in 2007 to lead a department in Massachusetts.

When he returned in 2010, Holloway updated the agency's crime-tracking technology and directed his officers to have more face-to-face contact with citizens.

St. Petersburg City Council members on Saturday said they were not aware of Kriseman's thinking.

"The best thing now is to support the new chief, who has an undoubtedly difficult job and critical responsibilities," council member Darden Rice said.

Kriseman has said that selecting a new police chief would be among the biggest decisions of his first term. The city hired a head-hunting firm for $14,750 to help identify candidates.

Eliminating Bevan, a 28-year veteran who started at the department before she could even legally drink, is risky.

"I'm obviously disappointed with the decision, as this was a position I've worked toward my entire career," Bevan said in a statement. "The St. Petersburg Police Department has been a very special part of me for nearly 28 years, and I wish the new chief much success with its future."

For months, Kriseman's inbox has been flooded with emails from police employees, neighborhood leaders, residents and others in the law enforcement community — with most advocating for Bevan, 47.

Two-thirds of the public who met the finalists at a forum last month said they supported Bevan. Geier finished a distant second.

"Why hire outside when we have someone with so many years of experience? It's going to take this guy a couple years to learn our community," said Council of Neighborhood Associations president Lisa Wheeler-Brown. "The community spoke up as to who they wanted, and I don't know how the mayor came to his decision. It's disheartening."

City Council member Steve Kornell, who represents the southernmost neighborhoods in St. Petersburg, said he thinks Kriseman missed an opportunity to make history in naming Bevan as the city's first female chief.

"I'm disappointed, but I'll support whoever," Kornell said. "I don't want this to divide the community."

Others, including former police chief and deputy mayor Goliath Davis, wanted an outside hire. Davis helped Kriseman defeat incumbent Bill Foster.

The last chief from outside that the city had, Mack Vines, flamed out almost immediately in 2001 after using the word "orangutan" to describe a black suspect. Another chief before that, Curt Curtsinger, was fired for racial insensitivity.

Contact Kameel Stanley at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @cornandpotatoes.

Mayor Rick Kriseman eliminates three candidates for St. Petersburg police chief 07/19/14 [Last modified: Saturday, July 19, 2014 11:32pm]
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