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Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein to retire in January

Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein, 67, announces his retirement Thursday during a press conference. His plans for retirement: being a “professional beach bum” in the Panhandle.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein, 67, announces his retirement Thursday during a press conference. His plans for retirement: being a “professional beach bum” in the Panhandle.

CLEARWATER — Sid Klein, who for nearly three decades led a dynamic, if at times embattled, Clearwater Police Department, will retire in January.

"Things are lining up perfectly," the police chief said Thursday at a news conference. "I've been in this business a long time. It's time to do some other things."

His departure will mark the end of an era in which he shaped community policing, reached out to the city's growing Hispanic population and helped launch Clearwater's Homeless Intervention Project.

The city will immediately begin a national search for Klein's successor, officials said.

It will go on as the agency is faced with one of its most significant budget cuts in years.

"Certainly I've been the kind of person who likes to see things go forward," Klein said. "They're kind of coming to a standstill. So maybe the timing was kind of right for me."

Klein, 67, will move with his third wife, Kelly, to a house in the Panhandle. He will obtain his captain's license and begin a cruise company to deserted gulf islands. He described his next job as a "professional beach bum."

City and community leaders agree Klein's unusual longevity in the post — nearly 29 years — is a credit to his leadership and innovation.

"Sid is leaving behind a pretty good system," said Mayor Frank Hibbard.

Klein's tenure marked a shifting attitude in the role of police. Efforts like Klein's focus on building relationships and community involvement will continue to shape how city crime is fought.

"You've got to be a part of, and not apart from, your community," said Klein, who described the work of a community police officer as converging with that of a social scientist.

• • •

Improving relations with North Greenwood, a historically black neighborhood, will be part of his legacy.

"The relationship between him and the black community is an improved one from when I first started working in the community," said Isay Gulley, president of Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Services.

Over time, community police substations became more diverse, she said. Officers became part of the neighborhood.

Where funding for efforts like community policing will come from remains to be seen.

Jonathon Wade, a North Greenwood community leader, described recent cuts to a substation there. It's been a mixed relationship throughout Klein's tenure, Wade said.

"I think he is going to be remembered as a person who is a friend to a lot of organizations in North Greenwood," Wade said.

Klein also had an integral part in launching Clearwater's Homeless Intervention Project, which works to help the homeless find jobs and take responsibility for their actions.

"He probably is cornerstone of the organization," said executive director Ed Brant. "He was given a mandate to do something about homelessness. Instead of being reactive, he was proactive."

Likewise in his efforts involving the Hispanic community.

"Sid was extremely successful in ensuring that our Hispanic-Latino community viewed the police as a partner and city service to help the community," said Robin Gomez, Clearwater's auditor and Hispanic/Latino liaison.

• • •

Scientology is another part of his legacy.

He was the first to order investigations against Scientology. Beginning in 1981, he ordered detectives to investigate the church, which landed in Clearwater in 1975. Detectives collected thousands of pages of documents and reports, cabinets full of tape recordings and books.

Charges were never filed then.

Scientologists called the chief's moves harassing.

Despite the department's aggressive investigations, Klein's inability to help a Scientologist still haunts him most.

Lisa McPherson, 36, was a Scientologist for most of her adult life, but died on Dec. 5, 1995, after 17 days in the care of Church of Scientology staffers.

The Clearwater Police Department investigated her death, and the church was hit with charges of abuse and neglect of a disabled adult and the illegal practice of medicine, both felonies.

But the criminal case stalled, and a wrongful death case was settled on May 28, 2004.

"I tried to not make it personal and realized that I had a job to do. We tried to the best of our ability to do it," Klein said. "Unfortunately, in the end, at least in my opinion, there was no justice for Lisa McPherson."

• • •

Three decades of police work paralleled an often painful personal journey for Klein. Twice, his wives were stolen by cancer.

In 1996, Barbara, his wife of 28 years, died. In 2005, Lois followed.

Through that pain, Klein found privilege in his work.

"During the worst of times," he told the St. Petersburg Times in 2006, "the police chief job has always brought me back to some sort of balance and purpose and mission in my life, because I've never let go of it."

He's now letting go.

"I'm hanging up my gun and badge for good," he said. "I've had enough of that."

Brian Spegele can be reached at bspegele@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4154.

Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein to retire in January 08/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 14, 2009 10:29am]
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