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Beach chief hangs up his holster

(ran SE edition of LT)

Police work in this city has never meant SWAT teams, shootouts or lots of unsolved murders.

The typical day includes parking tickets, traffic patrol or a stolen wallet on the beach.

Still, it has been a good living for Thomas Lange, and after 27 years with the department and two stints as chief, he will say goodbye today as chief of the St. Pete Beach Police Department.

He will clean out his office and say thank you to his employees.

In the evening, he will attend a reception at the Don CeSar Beach Resort.

"It's a marvelous community," Lange said Thursday from his office at City Hall.

"It's been very good to me and my family. It's just been a good place to work."

Lange, 48, who lives in the city, decided last year to retire and chose today as his final day because it is the anniversary of his arrival as a 21-year-old patrol officer in 1968.

He will be replaced as chief by his second in command, Lt. Charles Boice, who will in turn tap Sgt. Joe Cornish as operations commander.

Lange's decision followed political turmoil last year at City Hall, including the resignation of former City Manager Jeff Stone and a suggestion by Mayor Mike Horan that the city could save money by encouraging the retirement of several longtime employees, including Lange.

Still, Lange said Thursday that Horan's suggestion was not why he retired.

He said he was ready for a job change anyway and had simply been waiting for completion of the city's $2.1-million police station, which is to open in August.

That project was the last major goal on his list of unfinished business, he said.

Lange served as chief from 1984 to 1986, and again from 1992 until today.

He said he and his wife, Marsha, will travel to Europe and he will take two or three months off before a serious job hunt. He said he would likely stay in law enforcement or choose a related field, such as teaching law enforcement. But he said he had not made a decision. He will continue to live in the area.

He listed the new police station as an accomplishment and said he had aimed for a relaxed, collegial style in overseeing his department's 30 officers and 19 non-sworn employees.

"I've found people do their best work for you because they want to," he said, "not because you're making them."

Working in a small city such as St. Pete Beach, which has about 10,000 year-round residents, allows officers to know residents well and feel part of the community. But Lange said it also means a quieter job.

When hiring, he said, he was always careful to make sure applicants understood that.

"I try to put out to them the nature of the work here," he said. "If they really want to get on the SWAT team and things of that nature, we're not doing that here."

Robert Mariner, a city commissioner, said Lange stayed in close touch with the community and spoke to homeowner associations.

"I hate to see him go," he said.

Danny Walker, the city manager, credited Lange with "stopping the turnstile" at the department, meaning that young officers once would be hired and trained, then would quickly move on to bigger agencies.

"Tom Lange helped bring this department out of the Stone Age over the last 15 years," Walker said.