St. Petersburg has emerged from the Great Recession with a rejuvenated spirit and a bold vision. Like so many in our community, I am excited about our early progress and the promise of a brighter tomorrow.
The recent strides we have made extend to our police department.
A safer high speed pursuit policy has been implemented. Gun-sniffing dogs have joined the force. We have hired a veteran newsperson, Yolanda Fernandez, to keep our community informed and aware. We are moving forward with plans to build a modern police station, and the police budget I have proposed will allow the next chief to better outfit the men and women who protect and serve us. It's the next chief who will be empowered to effect real and lasting change.
Upon taking office, I set the course for a national search. The city contracted with a search firm, and law enforcement professionals from within the department and across the country applied. While I did not want to preclude internal candidates from being considered, I knew that longstanding divisions within the department would be a high hurdle to overcome.
It was heartening to see so many people — more than 100 — take such an interest in leading our department. I soon narrowed the list of candidates and asked each finalist to submit YouTube videos. And while I was not required to do so, I solicited feedback from the public, the City Council and our police personnel regarding the qualities they desired in a chief. They also offered feedback about the strengths and weaknesses of the finalists.
Each of the external finalists I met had their strengths, but ultimately none fulfilled the criteria to successfully meet the needs of our department and our community.
The internal finalist, Assistant Chief Melanie Bevan, is an exemplary law enforcement officer with a distinguished resume and the support of many in our community. However, I remained unconvinced that she could serve as the change agent we needed to begin a new day at the St. Petersburg Police Department.
I know many have felt this process was protracted, that it perhaps went longer than it should have. One headline even suggested that such an open, inclusive process put me in a tight spot. I couldn't disagree more.
In fact, it was the process that brought me clarity and led me to realize what was needed most: someone familiar with us, but not of us.
I believe that someone is Chief Anthony Holloway.
Holloway has led the Clearwater Police Department since 2010 and served as the chief of police for Somerville, Mass., from 2007-2010. He is a native of the Tampa Bay area, attended Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, and joined the Clearwater Police Department in 1985. He is a member of the Florida Bar's Board of Governors and has taught law enforcement to governmental, educational and community organizations throughout Florida.
Though Holloway was not an applicant for St. Petersburg police chief or one of our finalists, I sought him out because I strongly believe he is the perfect leader for this moment in time. I am confident in his ability to transform our department and to lead our force with integrity and moral authority. I am especially excited to witness his leadership in the areas of community-oriented and data-driven policing.
There are many theories on the sources and reasons behind the divisions that exist within our police department, and many memories that color our community's view about what is required for a successful next chapter. While perspectives vary, one fact prevails: As mayor, I am charged with appointing the leader who can best move the department, its officers and the people they protect forward. Chief Holloway is committed to working with his team to dissolve historic divisions, build the bridges our community counts on, and skillfully craft a new chapter that matches the optimism and opportunity of our city's new day.
Rick Kriseman is mayor of St. Petersburg.