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Search for next chief widens

Mayor Pam Iorio decided Tuesday that she needs to look across the nation for Tampa's next police chief.

Iorio's decision to conduct a nationwide search reverses a campaign promise she made while courting the politically powerful police union for votes. Iorio the candidate repeatedly said she didn't see the need to look outside the ranks for the next police chief.

But Iorio the mayor changed her mind Tuesday after a panel reviewed the applications from within the department.

"The selection of the police chief is probably my most important decision," Iorio said.

Eight internal candidates applied for the position, and a screening committee reduced that number to five finalists Tuesday _ while asking questions about two of the candidate's qualifications.

"That is a rather limited pool," Iorio said. "I think it is in the best interests of the city to broaden the search."

Iorio still wants to find a replacement for Chief Bennie Holder by the time he retires in late August.

Her choice will take over a department undergoing major change because of a state retirement program that has caused a generation to leave. The police department will lose about 60 officers this year, including layers of detectives and supervisors with years of experience. That's out of a total of almost 1,000 sworn officers. The changes have contributed to infighting among officers jockeying to move up.

Because of the turmoil, the union that represents Tampa police officers had urged Iorio to stay within the ranks. Union leaders said the department needs someone who already understands the city and knows the rank and file.

"I think if the department needed wholesale changes, I could see the point," said Kevin Durkin, president of the West Central Florida chapter of the Police Benevolent Association. "We have qualified candidates right now."

The Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers also wanted an internal candidate, and its board originally endorsed Assistant Police Chief Tina Wright, who is African-American. (Later, the board decided to withhold the endorsement after members objected to the action.)

Iorio's handling of the search could shape her relationship with Tampa's police officers, who make up the largest block of city employees.

Iorio got elected in March without the union's endorsement and with little experience working with police.

The union endorsed Iorio's opponent, City Council member Bob Buckhorn, and then stayed out of the race when Buckhorn failed to make the runoff.

Iorio said Tuesday that police officers shouldn't view her decision as a sign that she's not pleased with the force.

"The local candidates can compete right along with everyone else," Iorio said.

The local finalists agree with her that the department needs change, Iorio said.

Iorio, who was endorsed by thefirefighters union, didn't go outside Hillsborough County when she named a new fire rescue chief last month.

But she said that search was different because 18 people applied for the post _ compared to only eight candidates who applied for police chief.

A panel that reviewed the police applicants wasn't unanimous about its recommendation to hold a nationwide search.

City clerk Shirley Foxx-Knowles voted against it.

"I really think we have our chief of police among the people we are going to interview," she said.

City Attorney Fred Karl was ambivalent, but he said a nationwide search might give the mayor's ultimate choice more credibility.

After two days of meetings, the panel chose five local finalists for interviews: Maj. Jane Castor; Deputy Police Chief Scott Cunningham; former deputy police chief Curtis Lane, who is now director of the city's code enforcement department; Maj. Jane Siling; and Wright, the assistant chief.

Three of the five finalists are women, and two are black.

Panel members widely praised the qualifications of Castor, Cunningham and Wright. Castor submitted a "very well-crafted package," said Chief of Staff Darrell Smith.

Chief accountant Ron Ibarrapraised the credentials of Cunningham, who has a doctorate in adult education and management from the University of South Florida.

Siling originally did not make the cut for an interview, but then the panel decided to include her.

They were concerned about her demotion to major from deputy chief in 2002. After a three-month internal affairs investigation, Siling was demoted for not filing paperwork on time for a federal grant.

Panel members also raised questions about Lane's last evaluation when he left the police department as a deputy chief to work as the lead investigator for former State Attorney Harry Lee Coe.

His evaluation was good, but not outstanding.

The police chief at the time "was clearly sending a signal" to Lane, Smith said.

Lane also hasn't worked for the department since 1992, when he retired after 21 years.

His law enforcement certification is no longer current, although Lane could renew his certification in time to become police chief, officials said.

The panel had planned to interview the five local finalists today, but now that's on hold.

Instead, the panel will send out notices nationwide looking for candidates.

That process should take three weeks to a month.

_ David Karp can be reached at 226-3376 or karpsptimes.com.

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