TAMPA — With a changing of the guard at the Tampa Police Department, John Bennett and Marc Hamlin are the agency's two new assistant chiefs working under freshly appointed Chief Jane Castor.
Together, they have 44 years of experience with the agency.
They attend the same church. Their wives are friends. They both coach youth sports and pride themselves on being athletes. And they've worked together on such high-profile projects as coordinating security for Super Bowl XLIII.
In their new jobs, Bennett, 46, will oversee the department's three districts. Hamlin, 43, will oversee special investigations and operations divisions like major crimes, the tactical unit and homeland security.
The St. Petersburg Times recently spoke with the two. The biggest challenge they see? Keeping the crime rate down — it's been dropping since 2003 under Chief Steve Hogue — while operating on a tighter budget. Here are excerpts from that interview.
Talk about priorities going forward.
Bennett: On the operations side, we want to sustain the mission of crime reduction, increase our partnerships with the community and improve their quality of life.
How are you feeling the economic crunch?
Bennett: From the district level, we went into this year with a little bit of concern. But crime reduction has done wonderfully year-to-date because we've stuck to the plan.
I think we're going to take advantage of something that worked in District 2 and look at crime bastions, little pockets that may still have a criminal density.
And what do you do there?
Bennett: Well, you could build out your community-oriented policing. You can create more operational initiatives, get better communication in that part of the community.
Hamlin: I have a lot of the budgetary side of the house, so I have to make sure every dollar is spent wisely. The divisions I have support the mission, and sometimes they might feel they don't get the recognition they deserve. So, I think there's an opportunity to improve morale.
Hamlin: We have a lot of civilian personnel. Their work force has been cut in the last couple of fiscal years. So, even though there's been a lot of efficiencies achieved by the department, some of those people might be in fear of losing their job in the future as they read the newspaper. I'd like to help with the morale of those people.
Is there a similar concern on the side of sworn officers, even though there have been no cuts on that side?
Hamlin: Oh, yeah. We're concerned about the morale of the sworn officers. The city as a whole should be concerned about the morale of all employees. Because, obviously, there's no money in the budget for raises for any city employees and that, of course, affects all 1,300-and-something employees of the Police Department.
Union leadership feels the Hogue administration was heavy on internal affairs. Do you have any plan to lighten inspections or the related punitive measures?
Hamlin: I don't have any statistical data that the Hogue administration had more internal affairs investigations than previous administrations, but I would certainly like to make sure the relationship between the executive staff and the union is positive.
Bennett: I think maybe a way for the organization and the union to have fewer IA cases is to get more involved with coaching our employees before internal affairs issues develop.
What's the difference in the approach of former Chief Bennie Holder and the Hogue approach, and how is that going to change under a Castor administration?
Bennett: In Chief Holder's term, there was this community stabilization and relationship-building. And then Chief Hogue was able to expand on the relationships but with a business model to reduce crime. …
I really think the only transfer between Hogue and Castor is the fact that her administration has taken that baton. Her tactics and approach to get to the same end, to be No. 1 in the finish, will differ only in her style of running that race. But it's still the same race, the same mission.
What do you want the street cops to know at this point about this change?
Hamlin: The three chiefs really care about this department. We've all grown up here. We didn't start as chiefs. We were cops on the street.
Bennett: I just echo what Marc says. When I came on, most ranks, major and above, wore plainclothes. Look at this administration and anybody who is on executive staff; we wear the uniform. I have body armor on. I'm ready to go out.
We know that the numbers show a big drop in crime since 2003. Is there a figure you'd like to get it down to?
Hamlin: Yeah. Zero. No crime. (Laughs)
Bennett: I think, without putting a number on it, if we can cross that center line of being on the lower half of the cities that are safe for our size, I think that's a great place to be.