More than 25 years after he joined the Clearwater Police Department, Deputy Chief Michael Walek has been appointed to lead the agency during the city’s search to replace former police Chief Dan Slaughter.
Walek, who was promoted to deputy chief last May, brings experience from several areas within the agency: He has been a patrol officer and a detective in both homicide and narcotics. He also has worked in community policing. Before he was appointed as Slaughter’s second-in-command, Walek was a patrol major.
Originally from Buffalo, New York, Walek, 50, moved to the Tampa Bay area after graduating from college and got a corrections deputy job at the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. He later applied for a position at the Clearwater Police Department. He said the city’s character drew him to the agency.
“You can go on the beach, and then 30 minutes later you can be downtown and another 30 minutes later, you can be out in the Countryside (area),” Walek said.
During his time as deputy chief, Walek helped develop a mentorship program for kids living in housing provided by the Homeless Empowerment Program, a Clearwater nonprofit. He also started a series of four-hour trainings for officers so they can continue to learn and refresh their skills without having to take time away from the agency that would impact staffing levels.
Walek said his biggest goal is to continue the progress made by his predecessors, including Slaughter and former Clearwater police Chiefs Sid Klein and Anthony Holloway. Klein retired in 2010 and died in 2020. Holloway now leads the St. Petersburg Police Department.
“Chief Klein, Chief Holloway and Chief Slaughter have all done an excellent job and it’s just forward progress with the same initiatives and leading that they did,” Walek said.
Clearwater City Manager Jennifer Poirrier, who will be selecting the agency’s permanent police chief, said she chose Walek as interim chief because of his rank as second-in-command.
“He’s got a lot of years in a command staff position,” Poirrier said, alluding to Walek’s time in various leadership roles in the agency.
Slaughter, who is becoming an assistant city manager after 31 years with the Police Department and nine as chief, said he knew Walek could easily step into the role and keep the department moving in a positive direction.
“I think he’s really well poised,” Slaughter said. “He has a good, strong understanding of all of the organizational components.”
Slaughter said other members of command staff could compete for a police chief position within the next year or two, either in Clearwater or in other cities.
Walek said it’s too early to say whether he plans to apply for police chief. For now, he said, he just wants to keep the agency moving forward as he learns the role.
“I don’t want to make any statement either way,” Walek said, later adding, “We’ll evaluate that when the time is appropriate for that.”
Walek said he has wanted to be a police officer since he was a kid and that he’s the only member of his family in law enforcement. As a young officer, he focused on catching the “bad guy.” But his perspective has broadened over his career.
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“There’s so much more to this job than just catching the bad guy,” he said. “It’s the whole package.”