ST. PETERSBURG — New St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway said his focus will be to mend divisions within police ranks and soothe relations between police and the community.
In his first public appearance since being chosen by Mayor Rick Kriseman, Holloway pledged to meet with all 545 of St. Petersburg’s sworn officers to hear firsthand any complaints about unfair promotions and discipline procedures.
To repair relations with the community, he will expect officers to spend less time in patrol cars and more time on foot, an extension of the “Park, Walk and Talk” program he introduced in Clearwater to get officers more engaged with their beats.
“We’re going to get out of our cars; we’re going to talk to people. … It shouldn’t be a surprise when you see a police officer in your neighborhood,” he said. “We’re going to build some bridges back into our community.”
Holloway made his remarks Tuesday at an event at police headquarters to introduce him to community leaders and media. Officers and department staff, crammed into the training conference room, applauded his statements.
The Clearwater police chief was Kriseman’s surprise choice after a seven-month selection process that produced four finalists, all of whom Kriseman passed over.
Kriseman said he wanted a strong chief who would deal with internal strife in the department, champion community outreach and embrace data-driven policing and new technology.
“I did not see within the four everything that I was looking for,” Kriseman said. “That’s why I went outside.”
Holloway, who will not start officially in St. Petersburg until August, faces a host of challenges in his new job.
Disgruntlement with the city’s police department became apparent during last year’s mayoral election, with Kriseman and then-Mayor Bill Foster facing repeated questions from black residents unhappy with police conduct and high-speed pursuits in their neighborhoods. Like other urban communities with high youth unemployment rates, the city also has a high rate of juvenile crime, with 1,700 juvenile arrests in 2013.
In a March town hall meeting attended by Vice Mayor Kanika Tomalin, black police officers complained of being passed over for promotions and said department discipline is inconsistent.
Holloway said he expects officers to take the initiative in their districts, using the city’s code enforcement, school district resources and other social services to solve problems.
“A child caught shoplifting or something like that, we’re going to see if we can turn that child around,” he said.
But he stressed that does not mean a lenient approach to criminals.
“We’re not going to do a hug-a-thug program, he said. “If we’ve got to arrest somebody, we’re going to arrest somebody.”
Councilman Wengay Newton, whose district includes much of Midtown, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, said Holloway’s appointment will be welcomed in black communities.
“Down there, a lot of times they feel the law is being enforced in a different way than the rest of the city,” Newton said. “An inside person wouldn’t be able to fix that.”
Council of Neighborhood Associations President Lisa Wheeler Brown, who worked with Holloway on a program to lower crime in Clearwater, approved of the new chief’s approach that every officer, no matter what rank, should be focused on engaging with the community.
“St. Petersburg needs a progressive police chief to move things forward,” she said. “If he brings the same model here, our community will not be disappointed.”