ST. PETERSBURG — Four candidates for the top cop position in St. Petersburg went on a marathon of question answering last Thurs., June 19. From concerned citizens to police officers to politicians, each candidate spent well over two hours pleading their case as to why they are the right person for the job.
The candidates, standing in opposite corners of the Coliseum, had dozens of people grilling them on topics of community policing, wrong doing in their current departments, what they would change about the current agency and the problems between the department and residents on the south side of town.
“I have a community that’s absolutely identical to your south side except they wave to us,” said candidate Terrence Pierce who is currently the director of the Criminal Investigations Division with Montgomery County Department of Police in Rockville, Md. “We stop, we get out and we talk. Mrs. Davis will ask you to come in and have a slice of her pie because I have a relationship with that community.”
Candidate Thaddeus Reddish is currently the assistant police chief of the New Haven Police Department in New Haven, Conn., and the only black candidate. He faced similar situations in New Haven and said he actively went out into the neighborhood and spent time learning who was who.
“I learned who was in charged and sat down with them and introduced myself and let them know that I knew what type of business they were in and how that wasn’t going to be done anymore,” said Reddish.
Melanie Bevan, a 27-year veteran of the St. Petersburg Police Department and the only inside candidate, feels that technology is the key to community policing.
“A lot of people think when we talk about intelligence that we are ready to toss out community policing, absolutely not. It actual expands community policing to bring in research and infusion and technology.”
Bevan would like to give each officer a smart phone, have them build a Facebook page and open a Twitter account to build relationships with the community.
“When you’re done with the call if you say, ‘I got this Facebook page or Twitter account, follow me.’ Think of the possibilities,” said Bevan.
Candidate Jerry Geier is the current chief of police in Goodyear, Ariz. and feels that community policing programs need to be taken to a “different level so we can start building great relationships with all aspects of the community.”
Change was a subject on everyone’s mind and when asked how he would go about change Geier quickly said, “The agency needs a strong leader. They need someone to come in and set the vision and direction and provide some guidance and get fairness and consistency back in there.”
Reddish said he believes in having an open mind and coming in and looking at the police department as a whole. “If it works then we keep it, if it doesn’t work then we change it.”
Pierce firmly said that every position in the department will be evaluated and Bevan feels that technology is the key.
Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office is being tight-lipped about a date that a decision will be made on a new chief. Former Police Chief Chuck Harmon retired in January, and Assistant Police Chief Dave DeKay has been the interim police chief since then.
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