People need to look at the facts. The fact is, violent crime is down.
— Chuck Harmon, St. Petersburg police chief
The police chief of St. Petersburg is good at math. Every time somebody gets shot, he can prove with statistics that it probably didn't happen.
But when there have been five recent convenience store shootings, innocent people hurt, even undercover police officers gunned down, I'm lookin' for a touch more out of my police chief than statistics.
Something like this:
"I'm here today as the chief of police to tell the people of St. Petersburg that we recognize this is intolerable.
"The good people in this city have the right to live their lives and run their businesses without fear of looking down the barrel of a gun.
"The perpetrators of these crimes not only committed armed robbery — they violated every rule of society with wanton, life-risking violence. They have forfeited the right to exist in our city.
"I want you to know that we are on it full-bore. I want the convenience store robbers to know that we are out there, we are looking for them, and we will find them and we will stop them."
End of suggested speech.
Now, I already know how my friends at City Hall will reply. Wait for it …
That's not the chief's "style."
Well, guess what? "Style" actually does count in a police chief. It counts in providing reassurance to the public, and it counts in leading a big-city department. He is not the statistician-in-chief.
Anyway, we're not talking merely about "style." Even the numbers the chief cites are not entirely reassuring.
The statement that "violent crime is down" for the city in 2008 is true, if you throw everything into the pot, add the numbers a certain way and divide by pi.
But two serious crimes —robberies and burglaries — were up 8 percent and 14 percent, respectively. That is bad news by any standard, especially for the people who got robbed and burgled.
On the positive side, homicides, sexual assaults and aggravated assaults were down. And in the nonviolent categories, so were auto thefts, which were down an impressive 37 percent.
Still, whenever alarming violence occurs in St. Petersburg (like, say, open gunfire in the vicinity of BayWalk) the chief goes into statistics mode to "prove" that it's nothing to worry about.
I think he has a case of "It's a Great Day In St. Petersburg-Itis." That's a malady that requires you to deny that anything is ever, ever amiss.
The underlying cause, of course, is that the chief must adhere at all times to the sacred gospel, namely: There Are Enough Police Officers, Period.
Well, I wish the good police officers of St. Petersburg both safety and success in their work.
Best wishes to the chief, too, for that matter — nothin' personal; it just would be nice to hear some urgency instead of denial and statistics.
Heck, it also would be nice to see a little independent oversight from the City Council, but that ain't gonna happen. The mayor will say "boo" and half of them will kiss his patootie and the other half will trip over themselves as they back away.
In the meantime, it remains a great day in St. Petersburg, unless you were shot today. Even then, you should cheer up — on average, you weren't.