Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

Retired Detroit officer turned dispatcher aims to be St. Petersburg's top cop

ST. PETERSBURG — Lenny Riccinto adjusted his headset and glanced at the clock.

It was chilly outside, but warm where Riccinto was — a large room filled with computers, wires, noise and people. Riccinto's attention was on a trio of monitors in front of him — and the voice in his ear.

"41 Alpha," Riccinto boomed. "41 Alpha, go ahead."

He scribbled a few notes, then told the voice to stand by.

"Okay. Showing some warrants out of Miami."

Then, Riccinto started a second conversation with another voice hundreds of miles away. He passed information back and forth.

"10-4, officer," he said. "Be safe out there."

Riccinto, 66, used to be a cop in Detroit. But for the past seven years, he has worked as a 911 dispatcher at the St. Petersburg Police Department. Most nights, he gets the graveyard shift.

Riccinto's got a bigger dream though. He'd like to run the place.

So, last fall, after police Chief Chuck Harmon announced he was leaving, Riccinto put his name in for the top job.

"They gotta pick somebody," Riccinto said. "I feel I can make a change. I was hoping to at least get a shot."

Riccinto makes for a very unlikely candidate for chief of police.

He also may be one of the most earnest.

• • •

The St. Petersburg Police Department is at a crossroads.

Harmon retired last week. In the past year, the department weathered a series of controversies, including a string of officer-involved shootings and questions about police relations with the community.

Mayor Rick Kriseman wants the agency to go in a new direction. He said he'll look outside to find a new chief, a daunting task considering St. Petersburg has not had a good track record doing that.

"In some ways, it's probably the most important hire that I'm going to end up doing," Kriseman said.

Kriseman will hire an outside search firm. The mayor said he wants the process to be inclusive, and plans to seek input from the council and public. He is not sure yet how much the search will cost. Kriseman will consider those who have applied previously.

The group includes two assistant police chiefs — Melanie Bevan and Luke Williams — and people from small and large agencies across the country. Several applicants have military experience or worked for federal agencies like the FBI. A few are lawyers.

One man said he is a concert promoter.

"I'm going to go through all the resumes," Kriseman said.

• • •

Riccinto sent in his application the day after Election Day.

His wife of 21 years laughed when he told her his plans. Some colleagues tittered.

But Riccinto is serious.

Back in Detroit, where he worked the streets for 30 years, he never rose to the rank of a supervisor. But he was the lead detective for the carjacking unit. He also was a K-9 trainer and SWAT sniper.

He moved to Weeki Wachee after retiring in 2002. He had a shrimp business before getting hired in St. Petersburg.

He says he'll never stop being a policeman.

"In reality, I want to think I have a chance, but I know there's politics …," he said. "I'm proud of what I've done and I would sure like the opportunity to speak to Mayor Kriseman.

"I think I have a lot to offer."

Here are some of Riccinto's ideas:

First: The uniforms and cruisers.

Too light, Riccinto says. In his day, police officers wore black or blue and they drove dark vehicles.

Second: Patrol techniques.

Riccinto said he has gone on ride-alongs. Officers here don't get out of the car enough, he said.

"They do a good job," he said. "But you can't patrol neighborhoods in a cruiser at 30 miles per hour. You can't patrol with the windows up and the air conditioning going."

He's also not a fan of one officer assigned to one cruiser — at least at night.

"Being a cop," he said, "I worry."

Third: Community relations

Riccinto isn't unfamiliar with the tension between police and residents. Detroit had its share of issues, too, including race. He said officers here need to feel free to be firm with residents without always getting a "tongue-lashing" from residents.

But they also can't be alienated from citizens, he said.

"A butt head is a butt head no matter what color you are," Riccinto said. "But there are decent people who pay their taxes and all they want is a little peace and some respect."

• • •

Five minutes after his last call, Riccinto slid off his headset and stretched his arms into the sleeves of his black jacket, the one with the logo of his old carjacking squad in Detroit.

A colleague took his place in front of the monitors.

"Hey, you know I put in for chief, right?"

The woman slid on her own headset. She gave Riccinto a look.

"You?" she said. "Well, go 'head Lenny."

Riccinto shrugged. "What's the worst they can say?"

There was a brief pause. They locked eyes, smiled, and spoke at the same time.

"No."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

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