In 2009, when Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne needed a new police chief, he cast the net wide, bringing nearly a dozen applicants to town from as far away as Texas and Colorado for interviews. This time, the bench at the Clearwater Police Department had some worthy candidates and Horne quickly named one of them, Maj. Dan Slaughter, 44, as Clearwater's new chief of police. Slaughter's 22-year history in the department, his vision for how police should serve their community and his appetite for challenges should serve him well in a city that is a major tourist destination but also home to a diverse population with wide-ranging needs.
Slaughter replaces Chief Tony Holloway, who after four years as Clearwater's chief was named last month by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman to lead that city's bigger department. Holloway was praised by Clearwater officials, residents and police rank and file for keeping the department on track and advancing the department's reputation for community policing with an initiative called "park, walk and talk."
It was Holloway who promoted Slaughter two years ago to patrol major, overseeing about 170 of the department's 235 officers. Their relationship and trust in each other could lead to constructive collaboration as they lead the county's two largest municipal police agencies.
Slaughter has deep roots in Pinellas County. Born in Nebraska, he moved to Pinellas with his family as a young teen. He graduated from Largo High and the University of South Florida, married a local woman and was hired right out of college by the Clearwater Police Department. The jobs he's held in that department — including patrol officer, homicide detective, internal affairs sergeant and special operations lieutenant — give him a deep understanding of the department's strengths and the community's needs. He patrolled some tough beats, including the notorious Condon Gardens public housing complex, and worked on a couple of the city's most persistent problems: prostitution and homelessness.
Slaughter says he still gets excited when the phone rings in the middle of the night and he's confronted with an event or a problem he needs to manage. He'll no doubt continue to have many of those nights, but as chief, his role will change, as will the community's expectations of him.
While Holloway built solid relationships one on one, he was not very visible and seldom seized opportunities to talk publicly about his law enforcement philosophies. Slaughter should be visible, should establish himself as the city's top cop, and should share his ideas, his policing philosophies and his department's needs. That will be important at budget time.
Residents also will expect Slaughter to be firm with his own employees. Holloway's recent discipline of an off-duty officer who drove after drinking at a Clearwater Beach bar was criticized by some as too lenient — he was suspended for five days and two officers who stopped him but didn't do a field sobriety test, drove him home and produced no report got only a one-day suspension each.
Most important, Slaughter will need to be transparent — when his department does the right things, and when it is wrong. That's how he'll earn residents' trust.