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60 candidates, including St. Petersburg's Holloway, sought Tampa police chief job

TAMPA — When Mayor Bob Buckhorn decided to conduct a national search for Tampa's next police chief, he had a hunch the post would attract some of the nation's top law enforcement talent.

Buckhorn ultimately decided to halt the search earlier this month and tap interim Chief Brian Dugan, citing his leadership during Hurricane Irma and the Seminole Heights murders as evidence he's the right person for the job. By then, though, the application period had ended and a city consultant tasked with the search had a stack of five dozen applications.

So was the mayor right about Tampa attracting top tier candidates?

"Absolutely," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, the Washington, D.C.-based consultant hired to conduct the search. "You look at some of those candidates, they've already demonstrated in their own communities the kind of leadership that mayors look for. I think Tampa is certainly the kind of city that attracts good candidates."

The application period ended Sept. 29, but the consultant had not sent any applications to the city before Buckhorn made his decision to tap Dugan, according to Ashley Bauman, the mayor's spokeswoman. Buckhorn did know some of the names of the applicants, Bauman said. The Tampa Bay Times recently obtained the entire field of applications through a public records request.

The hopefuls included several high-ranking officials in some of the nation's largest police departments, such as a former commissioner of the St. Louis Police Department and deputy chiefs from the Dallas and Houston police departments.

Along with Dugan, four current Tampa police department employees and one recently retired former deputy chief also applied.

The stack also included a name familiar to Tampa Bay residents: Tony Holloway, St. Petersburg's police chief.

In an interview this week, Holloway said he applied on the last day, more than a month before one of the most contentious mayoral elections in the city's history. The results of the race could have decided Holloway's fate with the city — Rick Baker, the former mayor who was challenging incumbent Rick Kriseman, would not commit during the campaign to keeping Holloway if Baker won.

Holloway said he applied for the Tampa post with that uncertainty in mind.

"I needed a plan B," Holloway said. "I'm very happy in my current job, I'm very happy with the people I work with and the community has come long way in working with us. I just didn't know what the future was going to hold for me after the election."

Holloway said he informed Kriseman of his application. Buckhorn, as it turned out, announced his decision to tap Dugan on Election Day, Nov 7. After the election, a victorious Kriseman asked Holloway to remain for the duration of Kriseman's four-year term.

"I fully understood Chief Holloway's decision to prepare for other opportunities in the event the election turned out differently," Kriseman said in a statement. "Chief Holloway was never fully embraced by my opponent, despite the outstanding job he has done turning the department around and making St. Pete safer. I am incredibly pleased that he remains committed to St. Petersburg."

The job posting noted that the Tampa Police Department employs 969 sworn officers and 262 civilian staffers and has a budget of $159 million to police a city of about 350,000 people.

The Police Executive Research Forum had not submitted a list of top candidates to the city before Buckhorn halted the search. Wexler would not comment on specific candidates, but several stood out as likely contenders based on their experience with medium-sized or large departments.

Among them:

• D. Samuel Dotson, who in April retired from his post as police commissioner of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

• Malik Aziz, a deputy chief of the Dallas Police Department who earlier this year was a finalist to lead that department.

• Mattie C. Provost, a former assistant chief of the Houston Police Department.

• Larry R. Scirotto, an assistant chief of the Pittsburgh Police Department who was named finalist for the chief position in Portland, Ore., earlier this year.

• Luis Cabrera, a deputy chief of the Miami Police Department, who was a finalist for the chief post in Phoenix, Ariz., last year.

• Paul W. Neudigate, an assistant police chief for the Cincinnati Police Department.

Two majors and two captains applied for the post from within the Tampa Police Department.

Major Ronald W. McCullen, joined the department in 1989 and is commander of the Special Operations Division. Major Elias Vazquez, an employee since 1994, is commander of patrol District One, which includes the city's peninsula, west side, and Davis Islands.

Capt. Yvette Flynn and Capt. Calvin S.C. Johnson, also applied.

One notable candidate sought to return from retirement: Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Col. Michael J. Thomas, the former deputy director of the agency who retired early in August amid a controversy over illegal ticket quotas.

Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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