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Gulfport names Vincent as police chief

GULFPORT — Robert Vincent is the city's new chief of police.

The 16-year veteran was promoted from lieutenant after almost a year in which he and Lt. Howard Coombs took turns leading the city's police department on an interim basis.

Vincent said he has had a lot of time to think about what he would do if given the job permanently.

"The police department in Gulfport is going to police the way residents want it to be policed," Vincent, 37, said. "I plan to do a formal survey to ask them what they think.

"I want to focus our resources on what citizens think are the priorities," he said.

The department comprises 29 officers and a support staff of 10. It patrols a city of about 12,000.

Vincent, who has a master's degree in criminal justice administration from the University of South Florida, said that while he can find out the city's police problems from statistics, he wants to hear from residents about what they think the biggest problems are.

And while the department has been responsive — and the residents happy — during this interim period, Vincent said he wants the department to do more than just react to problems.

"The people are happy because the problem goes away in the short term, but not the long term. There is no resolution to the problem," he said.

He already has started to make the department more proactive by doggedly pursuing juvenile car thieves and by instituting "problem-oriented patrols" in which officers come up with solutions to ongoing problems.

Vincent has said he does not want his officers just driving around. Free time should be spent working on a specific problem.

Vincent took over as chief on an interim basis in February 2009 after G. Curt Willocks resigned. Willocks served for 18 years, the longest tenure in the city's history.

City Manager Jim O'Reilly, who at that time was serving on an interim basis himself, was expected to make a decision on the new chief within weeks of Willocks' resignation.

What he decided was that both Vincent and Coombs would get an opportunity to run the department for four months. Then, he would pick a chief.

However, O'Reilly was caught in an "interim" battle himself. He could not take over as city manager because he does not live in Gulfport as the city charter stipulates. As the City Council worked to solve that problem, O'Reilly put the chief decision on hold.

The council eventually passed an ordinance that allowed it to bend the rules of the charter and hire O'Reilly. He took over in December.

Tuesday night, he told the council he had chosen Vincent for the chief's job.

"My decision was based on the two factors that both of the candidates provided — a strong desire to excel and a continued effort to be part of the community," O'Reilly said.

But the deciding factor, O'Reilly said, was "Lt. Vincent had a very strong group of recommendations from outside the organization.

"I believe Robb to be a very strong administrator — who has the ability to learn the competing factors and forces on his position.

"I see Howard (Coombs) as providing very able assistance to Chief Vincent," O'Reilly said.

Both O'Reilly and Vincent said the city's most pressing police issue is how to maintain the current level of staffing and service in today's economy.

Gulfport names Vincent as police chief 02/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 2, 2010 6:50pm]
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