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St. Petersburg deputy mayor reveals what led her to halt police promotions

Published Apr. 17, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — Several weeks have passed since a group of officers, community leaders and city officials gathered at a church to discuss racial tensions at the Police Department.

But plenty of people are still talking about it. Lots are speculating what impact it may have on the agency and community. Many still have questions.

That hasn't been lost on Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, whose role in the meeting has been scrutinized.

Saying she was motivated to "set the record straight," Tomalin recently spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about the meeting.

"There's an important context that's been missing," she said. "It's feeding the issue of trust within the department and the leadership. Our sole motivation in all of this is to create a unified force."

For the first time since the meeting, Tomalin went into detail about the specific allegations that prompted her to call a halt to the promotions that had been scheduled to take place this month — and the administration's plan to address cultural issues at the department.

She said during the meeting, held March 11 at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, the following things were said about the current promotions:

• That unlike previous promotion cycles, the major in charge of training had been excluded from the process.

• That select officers had access to tests or test answers.

• That during the test some people received help.

Tomalin, who initially told the group she was not going to intervene, said she had to act once she heard those things. "It was specific allegations of impropriety in a promotions process that absolutely required investigation."

Tomalin said no one in the room — including Assistant Police Chief Luke Williams — challenged the allegations that night.

In fact, Tomalin said, the next day, she and Mayor Rick Kriseman met with Williams, who confirmed her version of events.

"His account was no different from my account," she said.

A few days after the meeting, Williams told reporters the controversy over the promotions overshadowed deeper and bigger issues raised during the meeting.

He also said the city did not need to investigate the promotions process.

"There was a discussion that there may have been changes to the process, but no one alleged anyone did anything illegal, immoral or unethical," he said then.

Williams, a candidate for police chief, has declined further comment on the issue.

Maj. Matt McKinney, who is in charge of training, confirmed his involvement in this year's process did not mirror the experience he had in the last round of promotions. Specifically, he said, he did not have the same level of access to test takers' information and scoring.

McKinney attended the March meeting as well and gave the crowd an overview on how the promotions work. He said he didn't specifically remember all the allegations Tomalin heard.

"I have faith in the confidentiality and the integrity of the process," he said this week. "I don't believe that anybody had any additional access to information."

Tomalin stressed she did not call the meeting herself and was not formally invited. She and Urban Affairs Director Nikki Gaskin-Capehart said they heard about it a couple of days earlier.

Both women said they arrived with no expectations and had intended to just listen.

"The cultural concerns had been around for a while," Gaskin-Caperhart said. "This isn't new."

Tomalin said the issues at the department are linked to the selection of the new chief.

"One of the new chief's primary charges will be to deal with the cultural divisions and create an environment that reflects the city's needs and the mayor's values," she said.

At least 75 people have applied for the job, including Williams and Assistant Chief Melanie Bevan.

Meanwhile, auditors this week began examining the promotion process. Their investigation is expected to be complete in three to four weeks.

Tomalin also said the city will conduct a "cultural assessment" of the department. Details of that are still being worked out.

"There is an undercurrent that just seems to be simmering," Tomalin said. "Our primary concern is getting to the bottom of what's happening in our police department."

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