By DIVYA KUMAR
Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — The Suncoast Police Benevolent Association, a union representing more than 500 St. Petersburg police officers, "proudly and enthusiastically" endorsed Mayor Rick Kriseman for re-election on Friday.
Detective George Lofton, president of the PBA, said the union was often at odds with City Hall during the tenure of Kriseman's opponent, former mayor Rick Baker.
"When we had a different administration, things weren't always so great," Lofton said at a news conference in Bartlett Park. "The sun wasn't shining here in St. Pete. Morale was the lowest it had ever been in my 27-year career as a law enforcement officer.
"There was a revolving door for police officers here in St. Petersburg itself. There were over 100 officers that were leaving the agency having to be replaced for several years."
Lofton blamed administrators who served under Baker for lowering morale at the police force.
The union official did not name names, but one of those administrators was former St. Petersburg police Chief Goliath Davis III, who served under Baker as police chief and then deputy mayor. Davis supported Kriseman in the 2013 election, but is set to co-host a campaign event for Baker on Saturday.
"Today under Mayor Kriseman's administration, we've got a renewed vigor in the police department," Lofton said. "Our relations with the community are definitely getting stronger every day. The morale at the St. Petersburg Police Department is the highest it's ever been in probably decades."
Kriseman, who appointed Anthony Holloway as police chief in 2014, thanked the PBA for its support and said his administration started "the beginning of a new day at the police department."
The mayor said the rate of overall crime has fallen each year he's been in office and that violent crimes have fallen by 26 percent.
"Tips are now up, crime is now down," Kriseman said. "We are solving crimes faster. Cold cases are now being solved. And that's because the relationship between the community and our police is growing stronger every day."
City Councilwoman Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, who attended the event as a Kriseman supporter, said he has kept his promise on community policing. Under his administration, the police department implemented programs such as "park, walk and talk" — an initiative requiring officers to walk around a neighborhood and talk to residents for an hour each week.
"When the police and neighborhoods did not have a good relationship, everyone loses," Wheeler-Bowman said.
Contact Divya Kumar at email@example.com. Follow @divyadivyadivya.