Meet St. Petersburg’s two new assistant police chiefs

Published February 5
Updated February 6

ST. PETERSBURG — The police department’s leadership replenished its ranks as two new assistant chiefs officially took office at Monday’s promotion ceremony.

Assistant Chief Antonio Gilliam, who was the major in charge of District 3, which covers much of the city’s western neighborhoods, now leads investigative services.

Assistant Chief Joseph Dente, who previously served as the major for District 2, which includes downtown, was tapped to lead the uniform services bureau.

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They replace two recently departed assistant chiefs, Luke Williams, who retired after 32 years with the department, and Jim Previtera, who took a job overseeing security for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Gilliam, 40, has worked for the St. Petersburg Police Department since 2001. He started as a patrol officer and later became an undercover vice and narcotics detective.

He later commanded the street crimes unit and the vice and narcotics division. He became a sergeant in 2008, was promoted to lieutenant in 2010 and then major in 2015. He is a married father of two from Tallahassee and holds a criminology degree from Florida State University.

Dente, 48, joined the department as a patrol officer in 1994. He has served as a detective in the crimes against children division and in major crimes. He became sergeant in 2003 and was a part of the management team that created the street crimes unit and also worked in vice and narcotics.

He became a lieutenant in 2008 and a major in 2016. He has also led the department’s SWAT team for several years. He is a married father of two with a criminology degree from Florida State University.

Both men said they look to their upbringing to guide their police work. Gilliam said his Tallahassee neighborhood was hampered by drugs and five of his friends lost their lives before he was 21 years old.

"It motivates you to ensure that the unsafe environment that I grew up in, it’s not repeated," Gilliam said after Monday’s promotion ceremony. He plans to do that not just through enforcement and arrests, but also through education and activism.

"I’m looking to bridge the gab between law enforcement and the community," he said.

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Dente said he grew up watching officers walk the beat in his hometown of Newark, N.J. It’s a style of policing he admired, comparing it to St. Petersburg police Chief Tony Holloway’s Park, Walk and Talk program to get his officers out of their vehicles and talking to the public.

"I grew up in a very diverse community, and that’s helped tremendously" in his police work, Dente said.

Both commanders tipped their hat to the recently retired Williams.

Gilliam remembers when he first met Williams as a new officer. Now Gilliam replaces him as the department’s only black assistant chief. He considers Williams a mentor.

"I’ll never forget seeing an African-American male wearing the gold badge (for supervisors), someone I could look up to," Gilliam said.

Dente said he has "big shoes to fill" in replacing Williams as the assistant chief overseeing uniformed services, which includes patrol officers and is roughly 75 percent of the department.

Maj. Frank Williams, promoted from lieutenant, will take over for Gilliam as the commander of District 3. Maj. Mark Hensley was also promoted and will take over District 2. Maj. Shannon Halstead will take over the crimes against persons division.

Monday’s ceremony continued the command staff’s turnover of recent years. Holloway was Clearwater police chief before he took over St. Petersburg’s top job in August 2014. That year he brought in Previtera from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

The longest serving active assistant chief is Mike Kovacsev, who was promoted in March 2016 to oversee the administrative services bureau. He replaced Melanie Bevan, who was named Bradenton’s police chief.

Holloway compared it to a relay race:

"Without looking back, you’ve got to reach back and take the baton from the person behind you," he said. "It’s about trust."

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @ByJoshSolomon.