ST. PETERSBURG — Candidates continued to spar over the future of the Police Department Thursday at a televised debate at City Hall.
The sharpest accusation came from City Council member Jamie Bennett, who said candidate Scott Wagman's plan to add 100 new police officers would require a tax increase.
"To put 100 new cops on the street, we would all love to do that," Bennett said. "But that would require us to raise your taxes."
Wagman countered that the cops can be added by a combination of cuts in spending and utilizing some reserve funds.
He said the city is "woefully undermanned," adding that the city of Tampa has three officers for every 1,000 residents while St. Petersburg has 2.14 officers for the same number of people.
The setting for Thursday's forum was a bit different from others — City Council chambers. The city, which had been wary of hosting a mayoral forum, agreed to partner with the League of Women Voters for the event.
While candidates discussed topics like the Pier, the Rays and homelessness, the talk kept returning to crime. Candidates seemed to trip over themselves to appear tough.
Attorney Kathleen Ford, 52, said she would add more school resource officers, and she criticized the city for nearly doubling property tax revenue from 2001 to 2007 but never reaching full police manpower until recently.
Bill Foster, an attorney, promoted a more aggressive policing model.
"Minor offenses breed major offenses," said Foster, 46, who has proposed adding video cameras at city facilities and parks. "You have to sweat the small stuff."
Business owner Larry Williams described a policy of hitting hot spots where officers know crime occurs but don't have the resources to prevent it.
"It's unfortunate our businesses are being attacked as our homes have been," Williams, 64, said. "Nothing works in this community without being safe. ... The police are going to be visible on Larry Williams' watch.
Bennett and business executive Deveron Gibbons tried to play foil to the talk. Bennett, 57, said "the city has a great Police Department" while Gibbons criticized former City Council members Ford, Foster and Williams.
"My opponents say they all worked on these issues," Gibbons, 36, said. "If they worked on them, why are we still dealing with them?"