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St. Pete assistant police chief will be Tallahassee’s top cop

After two decades rising through St. Petersburg’s ranks, Antonio Gilliam will return to the city he was born and raised in.
St. Pete assistant police chief Antonio Gilliam speaks during a news conference Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 in St. Petersburg. Gilliam will be Tallahassee’s next police chief. [CHRIS URSO  |  Times]
St. Pete assistant police chief Antonio Gilliam speaks during a news conference Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 in St. Petersburg. Gilliam will be Tallahassee’s next police chief. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Dec. 5, 2019
Updated Dec. 19, 2019

St. Petersburg is losing one of its top cops: Assistant Police Chief Antonio Gilliam will be Tallahassee’s next police chief.

The announcement was made Wednesday by Tallahassee City Manager Reese Goad. Gilliam will be tasked with the daunting job of cleaning up the city’s notorious gun violence problem and unifying a troubled police department. Leon County, which surrounds Tallahassee, has had the highest crime rate in Florida for five consecutive years, according to state data.

Gilliam said Thursday he plans to move quickly to introduce more community policing programs, hire more sworn officers and increase transparency at Tallahassee’s police department.

“One of the first things I’m going to do is emulate a lot of the successes here in St. Petersburg,” he said. “I’ve learned that it is important to really show the good things the law enforcement is doing...Not just during investigations, but also at times where it’s not adversarial. Getting out there to know the business owners and the kids in the community.”

Gilliam, 41, spent 18 years with the St. Petersburg Police Department, working from patrol officer to assistant chief of police. Over his career, he served in the department’s inaugural Street Crimes Unit and worked as an undercover vice and narcotics detective. He was promoted to sergeant in 2008, lieutenant in 2010 and major in 2015, before becoming assistant chief of investigative services last year.

St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway said Gilliam is a skillful communicator who always tries to think one step ahead.

“He is the type of guy that will listen and get all the facts — and then make a decision," Holloway said. “He asks: Are we solving that problem, or moving the problem?"

Gilliam is also a supportive leader, he said. Many officers turned to him for advice and mentorship over the years.

The department plans to look for Gilliam’s replacement internally and will begin interviewing several majors.

RELATED: St. Pete assistant chief among finalists for Tallahassee’s top cop

The move will be a homecoming for Gilliam. He was born and raised in Tallahassee and earned a criminology degree from Florida State University. Though he had planned to stay in St. Petersburg, Gilliam told the Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee’s troubles tugged him back.

“As successful as we’ve been in St. Pete, it’s hard to see stuff that’s going on at home,” he said. “I know I won’t be happy until Tallahassee reaches its full potential.”

Gilliam also said his hometown connections — including contacts from Rickards High School who now work in the Tallahassee police force — will help him heal communication problems and internal divisions at the department.

“They want a chief that will communicate with them, that will dispel any rumors, lay out a plan and that is an open book,” he said. “They don’t want to operate in secrecy.”

The search for a new police chief started in August when former Chief Michael DeLeo resigned after a tumultuous tenure and loss of confidence from the police union.

Gilliam beat out a pool of 52 candidates to get the job. The two internal finalists were Maj. Lawrence Revell, who oversees the criminal investigations bureau and has spent his nearly 30-year career in Tallahassee, and Maj. Lonnie Scott Jr., who runs the administrative services bureau.

The selection process was conducted by the Florida Police Chief’s Association, in partnership with a committee comprised of Tallahassee leaders from around the community.

Gilliam was his chosen for his exemplary professional and personal track record, including his work as a youth mentor, the city manager said. He’s involved in several community organizations, including the Men in the Making mentoring program and the Pinellas County Substance Abuse Advisory Board. He’s married with two children.

“I have strong confidence that Chief Gilliam will demonstrate his commitment and expertise by immediately engaging with the community to address violent crime, specifically gun violence involving our youth," Goad said in a statement.

Gilliam will oversee a budget of $60 million and about 535 employees. His first official day will be Jan. 6, 2020.

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