ST. PETERSBURG — Choosing the city’s new police chief had become a tough juggling act for Mayor Rick Kriseman, who wanted a leader to modernize the department and heal long-standing divisions but faced a community and police force largely seeking stability.
His solution came out of left field.
After conducting a national search that yielded more than 100 applicants, Kriseman turned his back on the process and the four finalists he selected, and announced Monday that Clearwater Police Chief Anthony Holloway is his choice to lead the St. Petersburg Police Department.
“Each finalist had their strengths, but ultimately none fit the criteria to successfully meet the needs of our department and our community,” Kriseman said in a written statement. “This process brought me clarity and led me to realize what we needed most: someone familiar with us, but not of us. That someone is Chief Anthony Holloway.”
Holloway, 52, will get a contract worth $155,000 per year for the remaining three years of Kriseman’s term as mayor, a time limit required by the city’s charter. He replaces Chuck Harmon, who retired in January. Assistant Police Chief David DeKay, who served as interim chief, is scheduled to retire in November.
Kriseman will introduce his new chief to community leaders today at police headquarters on Central Avenue.
A former U.S. Coast Guardsman, Holloway’s record suggests an approach to policing in tune with Kriseman, who pledged to make officers more respectful of residents during his campaign and who, soon after taking office, placed more limits on when police conduct high-speed pursuits.
Under Holloway’s leadership, the Clearwater department introduced Park, Walk and Talk, a program to get officers more engaged with their beats.
Holloway also championed Operation Graduate, a program that works to get more youths to finish high school and go into higher education. He regularly addressed high school students and at-risk youth in person to get that message across, Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos said.
“He’s a hands-on kind of chief,” Cretekos said. “In his short tenure, he’s had an impact that goes beyond words.”
An insight into Holloway’s approach to policing also came during his appearance on the panel at a discussion on incarceration at the Strategic Policy Forum at St. Petersburg College. He said he has no problem locking up criminals, but would like to see prison include education and job training to end the cycle of inmates re-offending because their criminal record prevents them from getting a job or even joining the armed services.
“The drug dealer doesn’t ask them for an application,” Holloway said. “Once we put them in there, we better come up with a way to educate them and put them back into the world.”
Holloway joined Clearwater Police Department in 1985 as a patrol officer. He made steady progress moving up the ranks, serving as a Community Policing Specialist, an undercover vice and narcotics detective, a patrol sergeant, a detective sergeant in the economic crimes unit and patrol division commander.
He was named as police chief of Somerville, Mass., in December 2007 before returning as Clearwater police chief in 2010.
Leading St. Petersburg will be a considerable step up from Clearwater, which with 233 sworn officers and a yearly budget of roughly $36 million is roughly half the size of St. Petersburg’s department.
Holloway takes the helm as Kriseman is pushing for Pinellas Penny funding to build a $70 million police station to replace the department’s aging and cramped headquarters.
Holloway also will have to deal with morale issues, including complaints from black officers that they are not given the same promotion opportunities as their white peers, an issue that surfaced at a community meeting March 11 at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church.
Local NAACP President Manuel Sykes said the appointment of the city’s second black police chief sends a message to the police department.
“It will give an image that everyone is welcome and that the possibility for promotion and success transcends race,” Sykes said.
Police union leaders said they cautiously welcomed the appointment and that rebuilding officer morale should be Holloway’s focus.
“I have been hearing good things about him and hope that continues into St. Petersburg as this agency has needed a real leader for the past 20 years,” said Mark Marland, president of the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association. “The troops are keeping an open mind and hoping for the best.”
Kriseman’s decision and handling of the search raised some eyebrows, particularly the treatment of the four finalists who recorded YouTube videos as part of their application, traveled to St. Petersburg for interviews and met with the community at public forums, only to be overlooked.
There was particular sympathy for Assistant Police Chief Melanie Bevan, a 26-year veteran of the department who had support from a majority of city council members.
“Obviously, we were caught off guard by him rejecting all the finalists and choosing someone else,” Councilman Karl Nurse said. “If he had to choose someone from the outside, at least we got someone who is familiar with the players and with the area, and should have a shorter learning curve than any of the outside candidates.”
Nurse said he hopes Holloway can give Bevan a leadership role incorporating new technology to boost policing.
In an editorial, Kriseman described Bevan as an outstanding candidate but said he was “unconvinced that she could serve as the change agent” needed in the police department.
Holloway said he will spend time walking neighborhoods and meeting citizens to get to know the city and its issues better and also plans to meet with all his officers.
“My pledge to the policing professionals of this great department is that I will meet and talk to every single one of you, as well,” he said in a statement. “I am looking forward to working with the outstanding men and women of the St. Petersburg Police Department.”