With three decades of service under his belt, Deputy Chief John Carroll has been tapped to fill police Chief Lester Aradi's job.
Carroll didn't work his way up the ranks with a goal of being chief.
But, not long after Aradi was hired in 2001, he saw Carroll's leadership potential.
Now, Aradi's ready to move on and he feels Carroll, 51, is ready to take the reigns.
"John Carroll has matured on the vine and now is his time," said Aradi, 58, who expects to leave at the end of the month. "It would be highly unfair to hold up the organization for my own purposes."
City Manager Mac Craig agreed to hire Carroll. He has the background and leadership ability to be chief even if it's just for a few years, Craig said.
"He's not the interim police chief," Craig said. "He's qualified and he deserves to be it."
Carroll said Aradi mentored him and promoted him at a time when he was happy with his job as a captain.
Just a year and a half after Aradi took the helm, he told Carroll he wanted him to be deputy chief, the department's second-in-command.
Largo already had a deputy chief, Judy Gershkowitz. And Aradi decided to demote her.
Carroll felt uncomfortable taking her place. He liked her and they had worked together for years.
"It's just not my nature to advance by pushing someone else out of the way," Carroll said.
But Aradi said the decision had already been made.
The chief told Carroll he was looking for an assistant chief. He said he would trust Carroll's decisions and stick by them.
And he has, Carroll said.
Carroll knew he wanted to be in law enforcement since he was 5 or 6 years old. His grandfather and two uncles were New York state troopers. His cousins were police officers.
"It's just kind of in the blood, I guess," Carroll said.
Carroll was born in Oswego, N.Y., the oldest of three children. His parents moved to Largo when he was 9. After graduating from Largo High School, he joined the Army, seeing it as a shortcut to a law enforcement job.
"I was in a big hurry to be a cop," Carroll said.
In 1977, he graduated from military police school. After three years of service, he returned to Largo and married Linda, whom he met at Publix while he was in high school. They had two kids — Laura, now 23, and Shaun, now 26 and a Largo firefighter-paramedic.
In May 1980, Carroll took a patrol officer job with Largo. Within two years, he was a detective.
During that time, he became a member of the SWAT team. In 1990, he became an acting sergeant and in 1994, he was promoted to lieutenant, and became SWAT commander.
In 1997, he was appointed captain. And in 2001, Aradi offered Carroll the deputy chief job. He made Carroll promise to get his bachelor's degree.
In 2004, Aradi sent Carroll to the FBI National Academy, a program for law enforcement leaders. Carroll returned and earned his bachelor's degree in business management from Eckerd College. Aradi then insisted Carroll get a bump in pay.
"That's the type of boss and mentor he's been," Carroll said.
Other city leaders are supportive of Carroll, too.
"I've known John for 26 years. He was the crimes-against-persons detective when I was a victim advocate," Mayor Pat Gerard said. "He's still the best cop I've ever met. He treats people with respect and people respond to that."
"I haven't heard a disparaging comment about him," said Commissioner Curtis Holmes. "Even talking to the rank and file, they're very pleased with it."
Carroll said he and Aradi have a similar leadership style.
"He's a very thoughtful, considerate, compassionate person with the citizens and the staff." Carroll said. "I think we're both the sort of people that take others at their word and trust people."
But Carroll believes in being tough when necessary, he said.
"If you don't stand up, you don't have any respect from the people that work for you," he said.
Carroll doesn't plan to stir up the department with drastic changes. He doesn't think they're necessary.
Largo's department just had a glowing verbal review from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, he said.
"Why would you go in and flip over the apple cart?" Carroll said.
How long he'll stay is not clear. He entered the deferred retirement program about three years ago. Craig said he made sure that Carroll wouldn't "bail out" in 18 months.
Carroll said he'll stick around for a bit. "My daughter's going to be getting married and I have a wedding to pay for," he said, "so I'll be working for a while."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4155.