BY GOLIATH J. DAVIS, III, PhD.
Mayor Rick Kriseman recently announced the final four candidates for the vacant police chief position in the City of St. Petersburg. Many were surprised the most qualified individual in the department, Assistant Chief Luke Williams, did not make the final four.
I am constantly questioned by individuals from all corners of the city regarding the decision. Many cannot believe the assistant chief in charge of operations with 13 years or more of operational experience has been eliminated. The buzz continues and I think it is time for me to speak publicly and share with the community what I have shared privately with Mayor Kriseman and his administration.
My position prior to the mayor’s announcement has not changed. The City of St. Petersburg needs an “outside chief.” I have shared my view at a CONA (Council of Neighborhood Associations) leadership seminar and with others throughout the entire city. The police chief appointment and the budget/finance director are the two most important selections any mayor will make.
The police chief in St. Petersburg occupies a very large stage and given the current state of affairs within the department, there is not a candidate in house capable of providing the stability and direction needed to “right the ship” and move the department and ultimately the city forward. An internal candidate ensures instability and discord.
Regrettably, the internal power struggles and issues previously addressed and controlled were refueled under the prior administration and continue to disrupt the department and the community. The Kriseman administration should recognize one important fact—they did not create the current situation but the opportunity to own the solution is ever present and awaits their responsible intervention and leadership.
The remaining internal candidate continues to launch an aggressive campaign for the position. It began when the previous mayor made it known he wanted to appoint the first openly gay police chief and took advantage of Assistant Chief Cedric Gordon’s unfortunate situation to promote Melanie Bevan while Gordon was on bereavement leave. Members of the department found themselves in the awkward position of reporting to two assistant chiefs.
I am acutely aware of the attributes of both Williams and Bevan given they both worked for me in my capacity as deputy chief, assistant chief, chief and deputy mayor. I made significant professional and personal sacrifices to instill the tenets Respect, Accountability and Integrity at St. Petersburg Police Department.
It saddens me to admit we have lost ground. An appropriately selected outside chief void all of the internal and external alliances offer the best opportunity to address historical cultural issues and other impediments to professionalism, public safety and community service.
Both Williams and Bevan contributed to the current state of affairs in the organization and the community and neither should benefit based on community campaigns and popularity contests. The position and the issues we face are too important to continue the power struggle.
In the event Mayor Kriseman is unable to find a suitable chief among the three external candidates, I recommend he declare a failed search and start over with a search firm capable of recruiting a diverse candidate pool of first class applicants.
St. Pete’s next police chief should be a carefully selected outside candidate capable of providing the much needed departmental and community stability, public safety, professionalism and fair and impartial community service.