ST. PETERSBURG — Two days after black police officers complained of inequitable treatment by city police administrators, Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Thursday he was putting on hold a promotion process under which few, if any, blacks would have advanced.
“This week, serious allegations were made by members of the community and St. Petersburg police officers regarding the department’s promotion process,” Kriseman said in a prepared statement. “Therefore, to ensure the integrity of the process, promotions within the St. Petersburg Police Department will be delayed pending an independent review.”
Kriseman went on to state he would tolerate neither misconduct nor baseless allegations.
On Tuesday night, about 125 people, many of them black St. Petersburg police officers, met behind closed doors with Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, said Cedric Gordon, formerly one of the department’s highest-ranking black officers.
Gordon said the officers, “apparently felt like they haven’t been given a fair shake or been treated fairly at the police department over the last four years.” Gordon, now retired, was an assistant chief for most of that time.
One of the issues raised was the promotion process, Gordon said.
The officers’ complaints come at a time when the agency does not have a police chief. Longtime chief Chuck Harmon retired in January, and Assistant Chief Dave DeKay was named interim chief while Kriseman conducts a nationwide search for a replacement.
Some officers believe the promotions process should have been put on hold until a new chief is selected; others say successful candidates have waited long enough to advance their careers.
Perceived effects of race on policing long have been issues in St. Petersburg, where some black residents accuse the predominantly white police department of insensitive treatment. One way to counter that perception, some city residents say, is to ensure blacks proportionately are represented at all levels on the police force.
On Feb. 28, DeKay wrote a memorandum saying he had received the latest numerical rankings of all candidates for lieutenant and sergeant positions that might be open.
He said one lieutenant position would be filled, along with some sergeant positions, with the future chief making additional selections once he or she is selected.
The rankings are based on how well the candidates do on a written test, plus their oral responses to hypothetical real-life scenarios described to them.
At the St. Petersburg Police Department, the chief is obligated to pick one of the first five candidates appearing on a particular list for each available position. The more positions available, the farther he or she may go down the list.
With one lieutenant position currently open, DeKay would have had to select from the top five. Hypothetically, he could have promoted a black candidate because a black officer is ranked fifth on the list.
But on the sergeant list, the highest-ranking black officer is 22nd. With four sergeant positions open, DeKay could reach down only to the 20th spot, meaning no black officer could be promoted to sergeant.
Mark Marland, president of the local police union, the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association, said the promotions process should have continued.
“We have guys who have studied for this, who have worked for this, and who were looking forward to the process occurring,” Marland said. “We would have no reason to stop it.”