Many of the complaints about St. Petersburg's police department overheard this week at a meeting between the city's deputy mayor and more than a hundred members of the black community, including police officers, were familiar. And the decades-old fault lines look even more severe now that two of the department's assistant chiefs — one black and one white — are both interested in becoming the city's next police chief. The entire episode underscores why the city's national search for a new chief must be rigorous and thorough. St. Petersburg's next police leader must be someone of integrity who can unite the department in its mission to serve the entire city.
Mayor Rick Kriseman said Thursday his administration would be researching allegations that Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said she heard at the Tuesday night meeting at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church: that there had been tampering with the department's most recent sergeants' promotion process that left not a single African-American ranked among the top 20 candidates for four positions. Tomalin said it was those allegations that caused her, late into the meeting after defending the promotion process, to promise the promotions would be halted. An administrative spokesman clarified Thursday that if the investigation found nothing amiss, the promotions could still go forward.
The nature of the allegations, however, are unclear and were not heard by a Tampa Bay Times reporter, who was not allowed into the meeting but was able to sit outside the room and overhear much of the discussion through a collapsible wall partition. The reporter heard repeated comments that the city's police department remains racially divided. Speakers said the department's brass discriminates against black officers, passing them over for promotions and cutting them out of communication. And some in the audience made clear that without action by Kriseman, the black community wouldn't stand behind him at re-election time.
But politics shouldn't be the motivator here. Good government should be, and that starts with Kriseman finding a person of integrity who has the best chance at uniting this department going forward. Racial tensions in the city have little chance of healing until the police department heals it own. That means finding a leader who officers of all colors believe is more interested in rewarding good police work than all other allegiances.