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Police encounter parking problem

The recent groundbreaking next to the Tampa police headquarters for the new four-story parking garage has unleashed a scourge _ not of vermin, but of police cruisers, some charge.

Ever since the Police Department moved downtown two years ago, marked cruisers have vied for metered spaces along with commuters' cars. Now that the 60 spaces police used to have right next to headquarters are gone to make way for the massive parking structure, some business owners and office types are quietly grumbling that patrol cars are hogging the precious few spaces more than ever.

"Every once in a while it might get out of hand," said Bill Moline, director of operations for the Tampa Downtown Partnership. But, striking a diplomatic note, Moline added that he understands the officers' inclinations: "It's human nature to try to find a parking place close by."

To compensate for the spaces lost until the 300-car garage is finished, top police officials are parking their city-issued Crown Victorias right in front of headquarters on the brick Franklin Street Mall, where traffic is prohibited.

Even that isn't sitting well with everyone.

Council member Mary Alvarez at a City Council meeting two weeks ago: "Seems to me like if citizens can't do it, police shouldn't be able to do it, either."

Banning police officials from parking on the mall seemed a little rash, though, even to Moline, who represents the interests of downtown businesses, whose customers have complained about the dearth of metered spaces.

"The chief of police and his high administrators shouldn't be walking four blocks to their car, you know," Moline said.

Police spokesman Steve Cole said he's sympathetic to the public's frustrations.

"We're trying to be a good neighbors, but one of the tools of the Police Department is vehicles, so we're asking people to bear with us over the next six months while the parking lot is being putting up," he said.

"We're stuck between a rock and the Franklin Street Mall," Cole said.

At least one official is trying to rise above the fray.

Deputy Chief Ken Taylor said with a shrug, "I'll park wherever they tell me to park."

PLANNING IS THE KEY: It was, as they say at the busy Irish pub Four Green Fields, well into the wee hours Saturday when the thief struck. Or tried to.

The singer had already finished the last round of traditional tunes and set down his guitar with the other equipment on the stage when a patron jumped up, grabbed the guitar and bolted for the back door. A car waited outside, according to reports.

Only this particular out-of-town thief apparently hadn't done his Tampa homework.

The Fields, as it is affectionately known, is a favorite watering hole near downtown for all manner of federal agents and prosecutors, among other legal and law enforcement types.

"Picked the wrong spot to be a bad guy," said pub owner Colin Breen.

Before he could escape, he was tackled by a bartender, according to a police report. About a dozen customers came to help, an off-duty undercover cop among them, Breen said.

A scuffle-scraped Carl L. Miller, 23, of Orange County was charged with grand theft.

The guitar, valued at about $1,200, suffered a broken string and cracked back, according to a police report.

But even if patrons hadn't tackled the offender, Breen said, he would have made it easy for them. Before the filching, Breen said, the fellow paid for his drink with a credit card.

Breen allowed that the targeted guitar was not the one that the singer had signed by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.

"But being Irish, of course," Breen said, "the facts don't have to get in the way of a good story."

NO ROOM AT THE INN: Nerves are still rattling at the Radisson Bay Harbor Hotel, where a gunman showered the lobby with bullets Dec. 30, killing four and injuring three more.

Since the incident, police officers have been hired to keep vigil around the clock, a security guard is never far off and marked patrol cars are conspicuously parked near the entrance.

Still, none of that stopped a man from wandering through a back door two weeks ago and piquing the suspicions of Officer M. Jumaily standing nearby. It was partly the crowbar sticking out of the man's pants pocket that rubbed the officer the wrong way.

"I'm here to see Sandra Valdez in room number 265," Michael Gravlin told Jumaily, according to his report. But there was no Valdez staying at the Radisson that night. There was no room 265, either.

Gravlin was arrested and charged with possession of burglary tools (including medical forceps and a defunct hotel room key), a charge he's faced before.

Jumaily's report said he asked Gravlin why he chose this particular hotel, with the cops there, the cruisers and even the recent shooting.

"Oh, that happened here?" Gravlin said, according to the report.

Jumaily's supervisor, Sgt. Jim Contento, was at a loss to explain it all.

"He was kind of a knucklehead," Contento said, "like the world's dumbest criminal."

Kathryn Wexler can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or Sue Carlton can be reached at (813) 226-3346 or Staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report.