Thursday, November 23, 2017
Public safety

St. Petersburg police chief defends recent high-speed chases

RECOMMENDED READING


ST. PETERSBURG — After a recent pair of high-speed chases resulted in injuries to bystanders, police Chief Chuck Harmon defended his officers at a City Council meeting Thursday.

Harmon assured council members that officers are not chasing vehicles daily, only when criminals commit forcible felonies such as burglaries, kidnappings and other violent crimes.

"I have been in law enforcement for over 30 years," he said. "This has always been a tough choice for us."

After the recent crashes — which were two weeks apart — police critics say they'd be more comfortable if officers backed off from chases altogether. The first chase, while mostly on St. Petersburg streets, involved the Gulfport Police Department.

This year, St. Petersburg police have recorded 16 chases. Of those, 11 were ruled justified. Five are pending review, Harmon said.

Two years ago, a newly elected Mayor Bill Foster prodded the department to loosen its restrictive chase policy as a way to crack down on crime. The year that change went into effect, 2010, there were 16 police pursuits in the city, according to department data.

A year later, that number more than doubled to 34.

After the most recent chases, council members asked Harmon for the update he gave Thursday.

Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran said Harmon hadn't wanted to change the policy in 2010, saying: "You really weren't receptive. The mayor changed it."

Council member Jeff Danner asked Harmon if he wanted the policy change to remain in place.

"I think the policy is fine," Harmon responded.

Foster said he wanted the policy changed in 2010 so city guidelines matched others in Tampa Bay and across Florida. The power to change the policy rests with Harmon, the mayor told the council.

"I never tell him how to do his job," Foster said.

Chases represent a small part of the 16,000 vehicles stopped every year in St. Petersburg, Harmon said, noting that "pursuits are an issue across the country."

Council member Wengay Newton pressed Harmon about whether chases were occurring that weren't reported by officers. He asked about an alleged incident where a resident jumped out of the way to avoid being struck by a police car in a chase.

Harmon disagreed with Newton, saying: "That's not what I am being told. It's not accurate."

Council member Steve Kornell took issue with residents blaming police for chasing suspects.

"Crime is the problem," he said. "Blaming our police … is just so inaccurate."

Comments
Woman killed in Largo motorcycle crash could ‘out-game any dude’

Woman killed in Largo motorcycle crash could ‘out-game any dude’

LARGO — Sydney Pender, 27, loved riding her motorcycle, even though she knew the dangers. Three years ago, her friend said, a delivery truck hit her. But she kept riding. On Thanksgiving, it was a crash with a taxi cab that killed her.Pender, a St. P...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Valrico intersection closed after car-sized hole opens in road

VALRICO — A hole the size of a vehicle opened up beneath the intersection of Nature’s Way Boulevard and Elm Grove Lane, Hillsborough officials said.The cause of the depression is unclear, but the intersection was blocked off to traffic.Hillsborough C...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Update: Mother, toddler hit by car in critical condition at TGH

TAMPA — A mother and one of her two small children who were hit by a car while trying to cross Dale Mabry Highway on Wednesday were still in the hospital on Thanksgiving, according to Tampa General Hospital.Cassandra Marie Spicola, 29, and 18-month-o...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Lutz pedestrian dies in accident on U.S. 41

LUTZ — A man is dead after deputies said he walked into the path of a car on U.S. Route 41 Wednesday night.Charles Miller, 69 of Lutz, was walking east across the highway at 7:34 p.m., according to Florida Highway Patrol.Daniel Johnson, 35 and also o...
Published: 11/23/17

Hernando deputies make arrest after finding body of dead woman Wednesday

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County sheriff’s deputies arrested a 32-year-old man Wednesday who they say killed a woman.Joshua Carroll, 32, faces a charge of second-degree murder.Deputies found the body of the woman, who was not identified, at 15013 Old St...
Published: 11/22/17
Tampa husband gets life, wife 40 years for sexual assault on 7-year-old

Tampa husband gets life, wife 40 years for sexual assault on 7-year-old

TAMPA — The mother of a 7-year-old girl stood weeping in a federal courtroom, demanding lifelong prison sentences for the Tampa couple who sexually assaulted her daughter while the girl’s own father took videos and pictures. "I don’t want my child to...
Published: 11/22/17
Details emerge in suicide of Hernando school volunteer accused of sexual abuse

Details emerge in suicide of Hernando school volunteer accused of sexual abuse

A former Brooksville school volunteer accused of sexually assaulting teenage foreign exchange students who were under his care was found dead last week, a day before he was due in court on the charges.The body of Bruce McAllister was found at the bas...
Published: 11/22/17
Fire sends smoke through roof of Brass Flamingo adult club in Port Richey

Fire sends smoke through roof of Brass Flamingo adult club in Port Richey

PORT RICHEY — Crews from Pasco County fire rescue were battling a fire Wednesday morning that sent smoke pouring through the roof at the Brass Flamingo adult club, 9034 U.S. 19.The fire forced the closing of U.S. 19 but traffic was flowing again by 6...
Published: 11/22/17
Mountains beckon, but family sticks with beleaguered Seminole Heights for Thanksgiving this year

Mountains beckon, but family sticks with beleaguered Seminole Heights for Thanksgiving this year

TAMPA — Before the killings began, Bob and Vivian Fiallo envisioned having Thanksgiving at their North Carolina mountain getaway.Most years, the couple spends the holiday at their tidy, brick-faced home on North Olney Avenue, in the heart of Southeas...
Published: 11/22/17
Report: Pepin Academies director had alcohol in his system at time of fatal boating accident

Report: Pepin Academies director had alcohol in his system at time of fatal boating accident

CLEARWATER — The former Pepin Academies executive director who died in a watercraft and boat collision on Sept. 23 had a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the level at which the state presumes someone is impaired, a toxicology report showed. Just befo...
Published: 11/21/17