Sunday, December 17, 2017
Public safety

Many weigh in on St. Petersburg Police Department's leadership

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman has said over and over again that he wants input on the selection of a new police chief.

More and more people have taken him up on that offer recently.

In the weeks since controversy over promotions and race relations at the Police Department erupted, a handful of officers sent emails to the mayor expressing their frustration as well as outlining what type of leader they want next.

"For far too long this agency has gone without a strong leader as chief," police union president Mark Marland wrote to Kriseman late last month. "When law enforcement officers respect their chief they will go out every day and give 110%, when they have a chief they do not feel supports them they will perform but there is a big difference between giving 110% and being minimally acceptable."

Several officers also vehemently denied recent accusations of racial strife within the agency, a situation that boiled over after a group of black community leaders and officers — including Assistant Police Chief Luke Williams — met March 11 at a church to air concerns, leading Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin to put pending promotions on hold.

"I know that every business and department in some way has its issues with people getting preferential treatment or passed up, but to come out and hold meetings privately and bash each other over topics and accusations based on race and unfairness because of race is absolutely childish, unprofessional, embarrassing, insulting, and hindering to the progression for change and equality," acting Sgt. Ricardo Lopez wrote. "The last few weeks have been a giant leap backwards in our progression and we need to move back forward."

The officers' letters are another example of the intense chatter about the department that has been going on for months. That discourse, whether private or public, isn't likely to fade any time soon.

The mayor is fine with that.

"Even before what happened two weeks ago, we were interested in knowing what people want in a new chief," Kriseman said recently. "I'm very pleased they feel comfortable. We want to hear from them."

Meanwhile, the mayor said, the city will still move forward with an outside audit of the promotion process.

Officials expect to finalize a deal as soon as this week with CPA firm Mayer Hoffman McCain, said City Administrator Gary Cornwell. The company is familiar with St. Petersburg, having just completed the city's annual external financial audit.

A final price has not yet been agreed upon.

"The gist of it really is, we're just looking for a review to make sure all the procedures and all the scoring was done correctly and accurately," Cornwell said. "We're probably looking at something between $10,000 and $20,000."

Once the deal is inked, the auditors would likely begin right away, Cornwell said.

"I would hope it would be done within three to four weeks," he said.

The promotions review is not expected to hold up the police chief search, Cornwell said.

The Mercer Group, a head-hunting firm the mayor selected to conduct the search, is busy accepting applications for the post. As of Monday, 54 resumes had been received, said Ben Kirby, the mayor's communication director.

Four were from people who already applied last fall.

Mercer is collecting candidate applications until April 11. A new chief is expected to be picked before summer.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected], (727) 893-8643 or @cornandpotatoes on Twitter.

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