ST. PETERSBURG — When new chief Tony Holloway takes the reins at the Police Department next month, he won't be alone.
Holloway, 52, announced as the city's new top cop a week ago, is putting a team together to focus on his transition to the county's second-largest law enforcement agency.
He said he may draw from his experience at the Clearwater Police Department, where he has been chief for four years, but also plans to tap the expertise of others.
The new chief said his mode of operation centers on three steps: evaluate, educate and enforce.
"The train is in the station, and within the next 100 days we're going to see what we need to take off that train — or put on — before we take off," Holloway said.
Many issues await, ranging from big projects that include planning for a new police headquarters to looking at basic policies, such as the rules for letting St. Petersburg officers take patrol cars home.
While St. Petersburg and Clearwater are similar in demographics, the south county city is more than twice the size, is much more urban and has more crime.
St. Petersburg's annual crime rate was one of the few in the county that increased in 2013. It jumped 5.1 percent, according to the most recent statistics from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Clearwater's rate dropped 2.2 percent.
Interim Chief Dave DeKay said it's not the types of crimes that are different between the two cities, just the scale.
Council member Wengay Newton said Holloway is going to be familiar with St. Petersburg's crime struggles in its poorer neighborhoods.
"(Clearwater's) North Greenwood has some of the same issues that we're dealing with here in St. Pete," he said.
Holloway said he will continue to target the same four major crimes he emphasized in Clearwater: burglaries, robberies, drugs and prostitution.
"I don't care where you are or which city you live in, people do those crimes," he said. "If you focus on those four things, you can affect the crime rate."
Holloway is known for his "park, walk, talk" approach to community policing, a practice he's likely to bring with him.
But he also said he wants to implement the CompStat model in St. Petersburg. The model, started in New York in the 1990s and made famous by the HBO series The Wire, aims to join crime statistics and analysis with accountability. Each week, commanders get together to talk about the crime in their area. Holloway said he expects everyone, from sergeant to major, to participate and not only know the trends, but develop action and follow-up plans.
"The biggest issue to me is using the data we have and making sure it goes all the way to the top — and all the way to the bottom," he said. "That data sitting on a lieutenant's desk doesn't do anyone any good."
DeKay said something similar does go on at the department now, though it's perhaps not as formal as what Holloway envisions. Top commanders, he said, meet weekly to talk about crime patterns and resources.
"I'm comfortable with how we do it now but if there's a way to improve it, I'm fine with that," DeKay said.
The city has long planned, in fits and starts, to build a new, multimillion-dollar, hurricane-resistant police headquarters.
Up to this point, the administration has favored a single building. Holloway comes from an agency that uses the substation model, which sprinkles smaller satellite offices through the city.
Holloway doesn't necessarily think that approach is needed in St. Petersburg, unless the community requests it.
"If our presence is known (in a neighborhood), you really don't need a building," he said.
Rank-and-file officers' concerns
St. Petersburg's police officers have long clamored for a uniform change.
Holloway, who comes from a department with midnight blue uniforms, endorses the current plan to makeover St. Petersburg officers' gear from light green to something darker. Funds for the effort are currently in the mayor's proposed 2015 budget.
Holloway sees it as a matter of officer safety.
"When you're working late at night, you don't want to glow in the dark," Holloway said. "We'll probably start testing different uniforms soon."
In another opinion likely to curry favor with the unions, Holloway said he is a fan of continuing to let St. Petersburg police officers take patrol cars home. He said it cuts down on the minutes wasted when officers have to check into a station and sign on.
With take-home cars, Holloway said, officers can start right away on their assignments.
He does, however, understand the argument from those who want limits on how far officers can travel home on the taxpayer's dime. He said he hasn't made his mind up about whether limits are appropriate here.
Recently, the president of one of the two police unions wrote a letter to City Council members, upset about the mayor's proposal to cut $643,000 in police overtime next fiscal year.
Many officers believe that's an unrealistic goal.
"Our staffing levels are way too low and our workload is way too high," said Karl Lounge, a sergeant in the DUI unit.
Holloway said he would look closely at overtime. Sometimes, he said, there are ways to cut back on it, but other times, he said, it's just the price of doing business.
Lounge is president of the local Fraternal Order of Police. He said he's keeping an open mind about Holloway and has heard good things from Clearwater.
"My counterparts said they'd just as soon not see him go," Lounge said. "They've been very happy."
Contact Kameel Stanley at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @cornandpotatoes.