ST. PETERSBURG — As St. Petersburg’s new police chief, Anthony Holloway wants to make some style changes.
He plans to change the way his officers patrol communities, but he has some fashion alterations in mind, as well: a new color scheme.
Holloway wants to transition the force away from light green shirts and dark green pants to a black uniform, a point that has raised concerns with some residents who think it could make officers seem less approachable and more militarized.
However, Holloway, who recently transferred from the Clearwater Police Department, said the change would be just cosmetic.
“St. Pete is the last department to go to a black uniform ... it doesn’t mean anything,” he said at a community meeting Tuesday. “That uniform is not going to change how we are.”
St. Petersburg police started wearing the green hue in the early 1970s, spokesman Mike Puetz said. Before that, they wore dark pants and white shirts. In Clearwater, officers wear dark blue uniforms.
Puetz said the proposed switch is a tactical one, since officers often work in dangerous situations after dark.
“The darker uniform does not display such a contrasting profile at night as does the lighter uniforms,” he said. “That is one of the considerations.”
The exact uniform has not been decided upon, so Puetz didn’t know what the cost would be.
Kurt Donley, public safety chairman for the St. Petersburg NAACP, said he has concerns about the change, and “these darker uniforms might not be welcome.”
He cited a 2001 FBI study that found darker uniforms have a more negative connotation compared to lighter versions, which Donley said could contribute to aggressive and violent behavior by residents.
“The look and feel of the police officers have an effect on the whole community,” he said. “It’s hard to go out into a community and earn their trust if you don’t look approachable.”
Donley also said he wished surveys within the department and among residents were done to gauge what action should be taken.
During the meeting on Tuesday, Holloway also addressed the ongoing situation in Ferguson, Missouri, where rioting has followed the death of a teenager who was shot multiple times by a police officer. Holloway said discussing community issues and finding out what people want his department to do would prevent tension in St. Petersburg from escalating to a boiling point, and the tactics used in Ferguson — police deploying riot gear and tear gas on protesters — wouldn’t happen here.
“I think we all need to learn how to talk to people; like I said, we’re not perfect. I think there are some officers out there who don’t know how to talk to kids,” he said.
His force won’t look like the military, he said, and military-type gear won’t be used only for the sake of using it.
“We should never have to go to that point where we have to bring out tear gas,” Holloway said.
The Tampa Bay area is home to several mine-resistant vehicles that were used to protect U.S. troops in the Middle East from roadside bombs. These surplus vehicles have been transferred by the federal government to be used by police departments rather than be scrapped. St. Petersburg doesn’t have military-grade gear, Puetz said, but it does have three armored vehicles that aren’t from military surplus programs. Two of the vehicles are used for surveillance, often in drug-heavy areas, while the other is an armored rescue vehicle made strictly for police.
Holloway said he would be “aggressively” looking to hire men and women who have served in the military to join his force of 550 when needed. Puetz didn’t immediately have information on how many veterans currently serve with the department.