LARGO — Often, when a police chief departs, a city will launch a national search for a new chief.
Not Largo. Here, they grow their own police chiefs.
Lester Aradi, who held the job from 2001 to 2010, groomed John Carroll to be his successor. And now that Carroll is about to retire after three years, he has his own handpicked replacement.
Deputy Chief Jeffrey Undestad, who came up through the ranks just as Carroll did, will take over as chief when Carroll, 54, retires on Sept. 6.
When Undestad joined the force in 1990, Carroll was his first field training officer, showing the rookie the ropes.
"He taught me how to pick up the radio and talk into it," said Undestad, 48. "Here we are 23 years later, and I'm still learning from him. He's taught me everything I know up until this point."
Promoting Undestad was City Manager Mac Craig's call, though Largo's elected officials appear to be fine with it.
"He's done everything you can do in the Police Department," the city manager said of Undestad. "John chose him from all the captains to be his deputy. He's well liked over there. When he talks, people know that he means what he says."
After graduating from Largo High School and serving a stint in the Army, Carroll became a Largo patrol officer in 1980.
Carroll rose through the ranks until Aradi made him second-in-command in 2001. Aradi made Carroll get his bachelor's degree and sent him to the FBI National Academy, a 10-week leadership program for law enforcement in Quantico, Va.
By the time he rose to chief in 2010, Carroll had already entered the state's deferred retirement program, known as DROP. Now he's leaving after 33 years in uniform.
But he hopes to remain a leader in Largo. After taking a long trip out West with his wife, Linda, he plans to run for Largo City Commission next year, when four seats will be up for election — those held by Woody Brown, Harriet Crozier, Robert Murray and Michael Smith. Carroll says he hasn't decided which seat to run for yet.
Carroll thinks that, despite budget constraints, Largo should add police officers. The 18-square-mile city has 137 officers and police supervisors, a number that has held steady for years.
"Even though we've added geography and population, we have not added officers. The Police Department has to keep up with the pace of redevelopment and annexation," he said. "We're not in crisis, but we're starting to feel the strain."
In recent months, Undestad has been taking on more functions of the police chief's job, including speaking about law enforcement topics at City Commission meetings.
Before joining the department 23 years ago, he owned a property maintenance business in Minnesota. He moved to Florida to pursue police work. "I wanted to find a job that still allowed me the freedom to be out and about," he said.
A married father with 4- and 6-year-old sons, he has served many roles during his career. He worked as a K-9 officer with a German shepherd named Max. He commanded the city's Tactical Apprehension and Control team, which civilians typically call the SWAT team. On one raid, he suffered a knee fracture in a struggle with a gunman and spent nine months recovering.
Undestad also commanded the investigations department and oversaw internal affairs before Carroll made him deputy chief in June 2010. He went to the FBI National Academy last year.
He doesn't plan on making drastic changes. "My goal and worry is to maintain that high level where we're at today and not let it diminish," he said.
It was Lester Aradi, who was Largo's police chief for the first decade of this century, who started the city's practice of grooming future chiefs from within the ranks. Aradi had been working in Illinois when Largo hired him as chief after a nationwide search.
In the Tampa Bay area, it's not uncommon for the larger cities to find their police chiefs by promoting from within. The current police chiefs of St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater — Chuck Harmon, Jane Castor and Tony Holloway — rose through the ranks of the departments they now lead.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151.