Sunday, May 20, 2018
News Roundup

Arthur Runyon: St. Petersburg police officer took 'hard right over the easy wrong'

ST. PETERSBURG — Arthur Runyon was a by-the-book cop, a St. Petersburg Police Department administrator who held himself and other officers to high standards.

He didn't "fix" traffic tickets. If in uniform, he refused to let others buy him lunch because he thought cops ought to pick up their own tab.

He was better at organizing people than charming them, qualities noted in mostly positive performance evaluations over 24 years in the department, during which he moved up the ranks, from patrolman to acting police chief. "A little gruff with employees at times, and can be intimidating," one noted.

Even his friends have acknowledged Mr. Runyon was sometimes stubborn and had a short fuse, and that his relationships with subordinates could have been better.

Mr. Runyon, who spent 35 years in law enforcement, 24 of them in St. Petersburg, died of a heart attack July 27 while visiting family members in Utah. He was 77.

"He was sometimes misperceived because he could appear to be gruff," said Goliath Davis, the former police chief and deputy mayor. "But he had a really good heart."

When Mr. Runyon became assistant police chief in 1988, it was Davis who succeeded him in heading the patrol division, an important steppingstone in Davis' career. The two men remained close as Mr. Runyon served as acting police chief for several months before and after the 18-month tenure of Chief Ernest "Curt" Curtsinger.

Mr. Runyon didn't smile much. Of several photos in Times files, the one accompanying this story is about the most joyous available. A family favorite shows a younger police officer, the corners of his closed mouth suggesting a possible upward lift.

He was an enforcer of standards, but did not ask officers to do anything he would not or had not done himself.

"He could not tolerate the idea of people thinking they could do their own thing," said son Paul Runyon, 49, the executive director of Coordinated Child Care of Pinellas.

Arthur Van Runyon grew up on a farm in Plainfield, N.J. He served in the Navy for three years and was stationed in Korea and Vietnam, much of the time on a submarine. He signed on as a Plainfield police officer in 1956 and married Joan Gouldner the next year. He moved the family to St. Petersburg in 1967, believing it a better place to bring up children, his son said.

Mr. Runyon joined the St. Petersburg police in 1968. He was steadily promoted: from patrolman to sergeant; to detective and detective sergeant; then to lieutenant; then to deputy chief of operations under Sam Lynn.

Work came before friendship, said Robert Goodrich, a fellow cadet in 1968 who remained friendly with Mr. Runyon despite their occasional clashes. "If I did something right that was fine," said Goodrich, 76. "If I did something wrong, he got all over me."

As his children grew through their teenage years, Mr. Runyon reminded them that his reputation and theirs mattered. "It was a topic of conversation in the family," his son said. "Everything we do was a reflection of him. At the same time, my friends respected his position and who he was."

Mr. Runyon stepped in as acting chief for a second time in February 1992, after Curtsinger was fired for alleged racial insensitivity. Forces loyal to Curtsinger made Mr. Runyon's stay uncomfortable, contributing to a police union vote of no confidence. Mr. Runyon retired in May 1992, saying he did not want to contribute to tensions in the department.

"He was a real stand-up guy during that year," Davis said. "He had a lot to contend with. He could have easily gone with the flow. Instead, he stood true."

Weeks after leaving the force, Mr. Runyon received a standing ovation and a community service award by the NAACP.

"That kind of validated what he was doing," said Paul Runyon, who described his father as one who "always stood for the hard right over the easy wrong."

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