On police chases and gun control, differences surface between Kriseman, Buckhorn

Being former disciples of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (the D.C.-based ’80s think tank created partly in response to perceptions that the Democratic Party was too liberal), you'd think that Bob Buckhorn and Rick Kriseman would share a similar political DNA.

In most cases they do. But two recent moves by the newly inaugurated St. Pete mayor show a contrast with Buckhorn, as well as with former St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster.

One of those areas is the policy on police chases. In both Tampa and St. Pete over the years, such chases have been extremely controversial. Despite criticism in some quarters, a 1995 directive in Tampa that allows officers to give chase even for non-violent property crimes including burglary and auto theft hasn't changed.

When the issue was brought up during the 2011 mayoral campaign in Tampa, Bob Buckhorn said that not only did he support an "aggressive pursuit policy," he also bragged that he was the sole member of City Council to oppose a settlement offered by the Greco administration to an individual who was killed after hitting a bus while fleeing from the TPD.

In St. Petersburg, the pursuit policy (loosened under Bill Foster in 2010) came under fire after two chases ended with crashes and injuries. In one instance, a suspect crashed into a Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority bus, sending it careening into an apartment building. During the campaign Foster said he wouldn't change the policy. Kriseman said he would, and did so in his first full week in office.

"I think it’s important with your techniques to weigh the benefit vs. detriment," the mayor says.

The new SPPD policy authorizes police officers to pursue vehicles only when the driver or occupants have been involved in a violent felony, vs. a "forcible felony."

Kriseman cites auto theft as a crime not worthy of a pursuit.

"Technically that's a forcible felony, but does that rise to the level where we put the officer who's behind the wheel of the car, his life at risk, and the community’s life at risk? Is it worth it? For a stolen car?" he asks. "In my mind, it’s not. That’s what it came to."

Not surprisingly, the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association opposes the change.

"As an officer pulls up, say, to a burglary and they see the bad person fleeing they just have to sit and wave at them. And that's not the way I think our citizens want our community run,” Executive Director Michael Krohn told Bay News 9.

Kriseman says the policy change is not intended to tie the hands of law enforcement, but is simply "balancing the safety of the men and women who serve us and of the members of our community."

A more symbolic difference between the Tampa and St. Pete mayors manifested itself this week when Kriseman held a news conference to sign the Statement of Principles of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a nationwide bipartisan coalition consisting of more than 1,000 mayors from across the country committed to ridding their cities of illegal guns.

"Given the limitations that have been placed on us by the Legislature, there isn’t a whole lot of tools in our toolbox that we can utilize to try and have an impact on illegal guns and gun violence," Kriseman says. By signing on with the Michael Bloomberg/Thomas Menino-created group, he felt he could "set the tone and establish the culture" of opposition to illegal guns.

Mayor Buckhorn has said in the past that while he believes in the principles laid out by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, he tends to stay away from national coalitions, believing that they aren't "particularly effective."

Meanwhile the search in St. Pete for a new police chief to replace the recently departed Chuck Harmon continues. The city began an initial search back in October, posting notices in newspapers and law enforcement magazines and websites. While David H. DeKay is currently running the department on an interim basis, Kriseman says his human resources department is putting together a list of outside agencies and consultants to "potentially" do a second search. The mayor says he wants something "a little more targeted," adding that "I want to search America for the best chief in America."

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