Running a police department the size of St. Petersburg’s is no simple task. That’s why the retirement of Chuck Harmon after 12 years marked the longest tenure of any chief in the city’s history.
The job demands law enforcement know-how and the political skills needed to navigate factions in the city, within the department and at City Hall. The job becomes very public when the city is experiencing its worst moments. More significantly, police encounter the public daily and their attitude and effectiveness can have a tremendous influence on how citizens feel about their city.
That is why the selection of a new police chief is one of the most important decision St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has to make. As he embarks on a nationwide search, he can draw inspiration from some of our local law enforcement leaders.
Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee holds an elected office and doesn’t answer to a mayor, but Kriseman should consider how Gee emphasizes an openness and accountability that fosters public trust. When things have gone wrong, as they invariably do at every law enforcement agency, Gee has been quick to own the problem and identify a fix.
The sheriff pays close attention to details and the latest developments in crime fighting. His use of “intelligence-led policing,” where a special unit of analysts and detectives each week tries to identify the top 10 most prolific offenders and then works with street detectives to build cases against them, has proved remarkably successful.
Tampa Chief Jane Castor has a strong work ethic that commands respect but an engaging, manner that engenders trust. When two police officers were shot to death, she exhibited a calm resolve that was reassuring to a shocked city.
Her meticulous planning for the 2012 Republican National Convention, in conjunction with other law enforcement leaders, paid huge dividends to the city.
When the search for a dangerous sexual assault suspect crossed jurisdictional boundaries last year, Castor and Gee characteristically put aside any concerns about jurisdictions and worked together to track the suspect and bring the episode to a swift conclusion.
Closer to St. Petersburg, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has been proactive on such issues as homelessness that extend beyond his jurisdiction but affect the larger community.
Harmon’s low-key management style drew complaints from some city leaders. His retirement opens the door for a fresh start.
Whether his replacement is drawn from afar or from within the department, Kriseman would be well-served by finding someone who embraces transparency, possesses a collaborative spirit and is determined to keep all of the city’s neighborhoods safe.