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St. Petersburg police chief leaves on own terms

Published: September 5, 2013

It’s not entirely surprising that St. Petersburg Police Chief Chuck Harmon is calling it quits more than a year earlier than expected.

Almost every candidate running for city council or for mayor questioned Harmon’s job performance this election cycle. Rick Kriseman, the candidate Mayor Bill Foster faces in the Nov. 5 runoff, talked about a nationwide search to replace Harmon if elected.

Although the city’s crime rate is down, Harmon was criticized for his low-key leadership style, his poor communication skills, and for two recent incidents where police shot into cars after chases involving black suspects.

Although Foster pledged support, Harmon’s performance was certain to become an issue that reflected on the department and the city over the next two months as the candidates engage in what can be expected to be a heated campaign.

His decision to leave in January is in the best interest of the department and the city, and should give the person who wins the mayor’s seat in November a chance to select a new chief.

Internal candidates should be considered, and a nationwide search should also be conducted. But no decision should be made until after the election.

Few city departments are as public as a police department. Police chiefs often become the face of a city at its most difficult times. It takes a combination of police smarts, charisma and people skills to run a police department in a diverse city such as St. Petersburg.

Harmon faced retirement in 2015 under the state’s deferred retirement program. His career spanned more than three decades as he rose through the ranks to the top job, taking over after the resignation of his predecessor over an insensitive remark.

He held the ship steady during the tragic deaths of three officers in 2011. He helped institute policies that relieved the city’s chronic homeless problem. For all the criticism, he has presided over a period of diminishing crime rates.

By deciding to leave early, he is assured of leaving on his own terms.