Residents of St. Petersburg were invited to join Mayor Rick Kriseman on Thursday evening at the Coliseum as he opened the doors for a public forum to hear from the final candidates for the next St. Pete Police Chief. Rather than a typical Q&A session, this forum operated round-table style, allowing guests to rotate to each table to ask their questions.
“This is the best way to give as many people an opportunity to just informally have a conversation,” Kriseman explained. “It’s not a campaign. We wanted people to have a chance to talk.”
The four contenders at bay included three outside candidates: Jerry Grier, police chief from Goodyear, Arizona; Terry Pierce, the director of criminal investigations for the Montgomery County police department in Rockville, Maryland; Thaddeus Reddish, the assistant police chief from New Haven, Connecticut; and the hometown candidate: Assistant Police Chief Melanie Bevan, a popular local favorite but not with former chief Goliath Davis, who wrote this week in the Weekly Challenger
that “there is not a candidate in house capable of providing the stability and direction needed.”
Thaddeus Reddish also believes an untainted set of neutral eyes is the best option. When it comes to in-house tension he believes new perspective could go a long way. “The common goal is to serve,” he said. “We’ve lost sight of that and people need to be brought back to that.”
Also speaking on the matter was Chief Geier, who said he has succeeded in remedying conflicts at two other agencies. Seeing the similarities between those agencies and the St. Pete Police Department, Geier says that fairness and consistency are trademarks of his working style.
“This agency needs someone to set the vision and set the tone,” he says. "Someone that can go out in the community to mend relationships with the community and rebuild that trust.”
Despite Go Davis’ opinion that getting a new chief from an outside source would be beneficial in both policy and conflict, many locals stand behind Bevan and her ideas for the future of the department.
Bevan believes that implementing more data policing, which relies on technology, statistics and geomapping, will help target problem areas and lessen crime there. Cities like Nashville and Baltimore have successfully pilot-tested these strategies in combination with their community policing tactics. With advanced additions like these Bevan believes the department can create a successful "community-infused" system in St. Pete as well.
Captain Pierce from Maryland says that community policing is the best approach. After instructing and lecturing on community policing concepts, he said it's important to see that everyone gets proper training for all circumstances in all types of communities.
The crowd was fairly intimate but Bevan’s section at the forum proved to be the most popular with the largest crowd and the most activity. But popularity won’t win this race. Although the public were welcomed to ask questions and fill out comment cards, the decision ultimately lies in the hands of the mayor, who is expected to decide relatively soon.