Saturday, June 23, 2018
Public safety

Two internal candidates will apply to be the next St. Petersburg police chief

ST. PETERSBURG — Almost immediately after police Chief Chuck Harmon announced his intention to retire Jan. 6, the names of two possible replacements rose to the surface.

Assistant police chiefs Luke Williams and Melanie Bevan both would be "viable candidates" to take over, Harmon told reporters Wednesday as he announced his retirement. Mayor Bill Foster and City Council members echoed his statement.

Williams and Bevan have spent their careers with the city, rising through police ranks over the past two decades. In interviews this week with the Tampa Bay Times, both said — for the first time publicly — that they are interested in the top spot.

"For the love of the community and the organization, I would apply," said Williams, 49.

"I think I have the experience, the education, the affiliations with the community," said Bevan, 47. "In the end it's whoever the mayor at the time thinks is best for the job."

The timing of Harmon's announcement, in the middle of a mayoral election, may complicate the search. In St. Petersburg, the mayor gets to appoint the police chief.

Both Foster and his challenger, Rick Kriseman, say they want to conduct a national search. But the question is, when? National searches routinely take several months.

Kriseman has called on Foster not to make any decisions before the Nov. 5 election and asked to be kept informed of any decisions related to the transition.

"We're going to start right away," Foster said. "We're not waiting until Jan. 5 to find a new police chief for the city of St. Petersburg."

The mayor said he doesn't know if the city will hire an outside agency to conduct the search or use staffers. "I am exploring the options for the search process," Foster said.

Regardless of when a search starts, it is widely expected that both Bevan and Williams would be considered strong candidates.

In many ways, they already have an edge. St. Petersburg has never done well with outside police chiefs.

Williams was born and raised in St. Petersburg. He got his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of South Florida and was sworn in as an officer in 1986.

Ten years later, he was named officer of the year. He did stints in patrol, burglary, robbery and homicide. He jumped from sergeant to major the next year. In late 2000, then-Police Chief Goliath Davis III announced he was promoting Williams to assistant police chief. He currently is in charge of the uniform services, the department's biggest bureau.

Bevan became an officer in 1987. She was born in Largo and came to St. Petersburg after graduation. She holds bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees.

She worked undercover drug stings and formed the original street crimes unit in the early 2000s. She became a sergeant in 1995, a lieutenant in 1999 and a major in 2005. In 2011, she coordinated the funerals of three officers killed in the line of duty. Last year, she was tapped to manage the city's portion of the Republican National Convention.

Bevan has been an assistant police chief for 10 months. Harmon promoted her to the position shortly after the death of Brittany Gordon, the daughter of Cedric Gordon, the assistant police chief who retires this month.

Bevan said she welcomes a national search but agrees with City Council member Charlie Gerdes' recent comments about the importance of growing leaders from within.

"I don't know that you can put a price on that," she said. "Understanding your community on an intimate level is good."

In 1999, both Bevan and Williams joined Leadership St. Petersburg, a civic group that seeks to educate about city history with an aim toward creating new leaders.

City Council chairman Karl Nurse, who has worked with both, said either would be a good choice. He said Williams has deep community contacts, and he praised the way Bevan embraces innovation.

"They have different styles," he said. "Either one of them could do it."

Williams often fills in for Harmon when the chief is out of town. He also has a deep commitment to community issues. He spends many weekends mentoring young people, and said it's something he thinks is important for the next leader of the department to emphasize.

"You need to ensure members of the organization are part of the community," he said. "That's something that I've always done."

Bevan also enjoys respect in the community. She often attends community luncheons and events.

This week, she gave the quarterly update on crime issues to city leaders while Harmon drove his wife to the airport. She also has been a liaison between the union and Harmon.

Nurse said he agrees with Foster that the search should begin now. He said it will be important for the community — and officers — to have a transition that is as easy as possible.

"I would like the gap to be as short as possible," he said.

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

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