The drama regarding the choice of a new police chief in St. Petersburg is over, as Mayor Rick Kriseman named Clearwater Chief of Police Anthony Holloway to become the city's top cop, effective mid-August.
"We are a force that's going to stand together," Holloway said in his opening remarks inside the department's training facility on First Avenue North, before a room filled with reporters, department officials and members of the public. "We're going to build some bridges back into the community."
Although there has been a groundswell of criticism in some quarters in the past couple of days with Kriseman going outside of the publicized process in choosing a new chief, there was nary a discouraging word to be heard during or after the press conference this morning. "It's a little weird the way it happened," admitted City Council Chair Bill Dudley. "But it's the mayor's decision, and we have to respect that."
That decision was to bypass the four announced finalists — three of whom were from out of town and flown in on the city's dime to meet with the mayor, members of council and the public in a well-publicized event last month. But word began spreading on Saturday morning that three of the finalists had been notified that they were out of the running. On Sunday, the fourth candidate, Goodyear, Arizona chief of police Jerry Geier, announced that he, too, was out as a candidate.
On Monday, the mayor ended the speculation in a press release announcing that he was choosing the 52-year-old Holloway to lead the department. Holloway will replace Chuck Harmon as the full-time chief beginning in August. Harmon stepped down in January, and the post had been held on an interim basis by Assistant Police Chief David DeKay, who is scheduled to retire in November.
In St. Petersburg's strong-mayor form of governance, hiring decisions like a new police chief are strictly the province of the mayor, which is why Kriseman was a bit baffled back in June when some council members complained about not being involved enough in the process. "I could have after being elected chosen a new police chief right then and there, and not spoken to anyone," Kriseman said on Tuesday, hastening to add that he didn't do that, but in fact wanted to get feedback from members of the SPPD, the Council and the public. But he said after gathering all the information on the four candidates, "I did not see within the four everything that I was looking for, and that's why I went outside."
He went on to say he could have started up the entire process again, but that would have taken another several months. "We need to move forward, and when I found the candidate (Holloway) there was no point in going further. I found the person who gave me all the qualities I was looking for in a chief."
CL asked Holloway why didn't he apply for the job when the city announced their nationwide search. He says it was because he was relatively content in Clearwater at the time. But his attitude changed when Mayor Kriseman called him in recent weeks to talk up the job.
Holloway joined the Clearwater Police Department in 1985 as a patrol officer. According to the Clearwater Police's website, he served as a Patrol Officer, a Community Policing Specialist, an undercover Vice & Narcotics Detective, a Patrol Sergeant, a Detective Sergeant (Economic Crimes Unit), the Support Services Assistant Division Commander, and the Patrol Division Commander before leaving in 2007 to become chief in Somerville, Massachusetts, but returned back to become the Clearwater Chief of Police in 2010.
His comments about his police officers making contact regularly with the community is no doubt an attractive sound to Kriseman's ears, as the new mayor debated former Mayor Bill Foster regarding the city's employment of community policing tactics during last year's mayoral campaign.
"We're going to get out of the car, we're going to talk to people," Holloway said, but cautioned that he was no softie on crime. "I'm not talking about 'hug-a-thug'," he reassured the crowd. But he said that if a child is say, shoplifting, "We're going to see what we can do that child and get him or her back on the right track."
When asked about what he planned to do about the reported racial tension within the ranks, Holloway professed to being aware of that perception, and said that we would talk to every employee in the department to determine what was fact and what was fiction in that regard.
Although undoubtedly some people may still be upset at the mayor for circumventing a process that he himself created around the hiring of a new chief, as far as the mayor is concerned, that's now yesterdays news. "We need to move forward," he said. And with that the city has itself a new chief.