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Clearwater police chief candidates answer questions from community

CLEARWATER — About 100 people showed up at a forum Tuesday night at the Harborview Center to get to know the four candidates vying to replace longtime Clearwater Police Chief Sid Klein, who is retiring early next year.

While those who attended raised budget concerns, two other issues seemed to be at the forefront of their minds: the homeless and street gangs.

The candidates — Eugenio "Gene" Bernal, Anthony "Tony" Holloway, John A. Jackson and Thomas Lawrence — rotated between groups, giving brief presentations on their backgrounds and their visions for the future of the department. They then fielded questions from community leaders, social service providers and city residents.

Those who attended were given comment cards to rate the candidates and offer feedback. They will be reviewed by city officials before a final decision is made by City Manager Bill Horne sometime next month.

Here's a brief rundown on what they had to say:

Eugenio 'Gene' Bernal | Deputy chief, Orlando Police Department

Vision: Continuation of the "solid reputation" of the department, while bringing "fresh ideas" and the perspectives of a veteran law enforcement officer.

Leadership style: "Enthusiastic and energized," with an emphasis on shaping vision and encouraging commitment.

Biggest challenge: Budget constraints.

Skills, accomplishments: Only bilingual candidate. Has developed several outreach programs to serve his jurisdiction, a culturally diverse, urban area. Has experience in a wide range of law enforcement roles, including patrol command, recruiting, hostage negotiating, traffic homicide investigations and community relations. Shaved 12 percent from his department's budget by reducing overtime pay and eliminating an antiquated reporting system.

Why he wants to come to Clearwater: Bernal said he thinks Clearwater is a good city to raise his children in and he is looking for a second career when he retires after 28 years in Orlando because of the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program.

On gangs: As a former supervisor with Orlando Police Department's gang intervention unit, Bernal oversaw the maintenance of gang intelligence files and networking with other gang units.

Quote: "I would never ask my officers to do something I wouldn't do myself."

Anthony 'Tony' Holloway | Chief, Somerville (Mass.) Police Department

Vision: Building on the foundation built by Chief Klein and taking a "very good department" and making it into a "great department." Believes it's imperative to understand the "core values" of the community and integrate them with appropriate resources and operational capacity.

Leadership style: Leading by example.

Biggest challenge: Continuity of departmental leadership and community relations in the face of Klein's retirement.

Skills, accomplishments: During a 23-year law enforcement career — 21 of those years in Clearwater, Holloway has worked in every division except internal affairs and has experience with patrol operations, economic crimes and vice and narcotics investigations. Is familiar with the city and its challenges. Reduced violent crime by 18 percent during his tenure in Somerville and reduced the overtime budget by 30 percent.

Why he wants to come to Clearwater: Holloway said he believes in the work of the department and his familiarity with the city and its challenges would give him an advantage as an incoming leader.

On homelessness: Said the role of police in dealing with the homeless population is to enforce laws, but also to help refer to appropriate services.

Quote: "If you work that area and there's a problem in that area, you might as well address it, because, if not, you're going to be right back there again tomorrow."

John A. Jackson | Chief, Alamosa (Colo.) Police Department

Vision: "Proactive" policing and the creation of partnerships that serve as a bridge between the department and the community.

Leadership style: Collaborative, with an emphasis on supporting officers and providing appropriate resources.

Biggest challenge: Connecting with the community.

Skills, accomplishments: Modernized department, in part by moving mobile data to patrol cars, spearheaded the creation of a regional law enforcement training center, created a school resource officer program that has seen a 78 percent reduction in crime at one of the city's two high schools. Teaches college criminal justice courses.

Why he wants to come to Clearwater: Jackson said he has studied Clearwater's department because of its strong reputation as a "benchmark" city for law enforcement techniques and programs.

On gangs: Interrupting communication is an effective tactic as well as preventative programs and "restorative justice," like a graffiti abatement program he established where graffiti artists were charged with cleaning up buildings they defaced.

Quote: "When you prevent crimes, you don't have to solve crimes."

Thomas Lawrence | Deputy chief, Dallas Police Department

Vision: Use his broad array of skills and experience to "not just address crime, but the systemic problems leading to crime."

Leadership style: Said he believes in "situational leadership" that is scenario-based and tries to seek and consider input from subordinates and colleagues. Likes to be in the field with his officers.

Biggest challenge: The importance of connecting with the community and cultivating relationships with citizens, social service agencies and local businesses.

Skills, accomplishments: A "broad scope" of experience in various law enforcement roles, including patrol operations, SWAT, Homeland Security and community and business relations. Touts a 12 percent reduction in crime as a patrol commander. Oversaw project to install surveillance cameras in downtown Dallas that have resulted in hundreds of arrests. Experience obtaining grants that brought federal funds to the city.

Why he wants to come to Clearwater: Lawrence said he has always had a desire to be a police chief in a city about the size of Clearwater and respects the level of commitment and loyalty of Clearwater police officers.

On gangs: Lawrence, who deals with street-level criminal organizations in his current position, said he believes in a two-pronged approach of early interdiction and aggressive enforcement.

Quote: "If we do not figure out a way to reach out to the community, establish inroads, we are destined for failure."

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Clearwater police chief candidates answer questions from community 12/16/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 16, 2009 10:02pm]
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