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Tampa chief makes a mark

Steve Hogue is requiring all officers to take an agility test and is taking seized vehicles out of officers' hands.

By BRADY DENNIS
Published September 26, 2003

TAMPA - New Tampa police Chief Steve Hogue, during his first meeting with his top commanders on Monday, told them he wouldn't shake up the department too much, too soon.

"I'm not going to run in there," Hogue said, "and make a bunch of changes."

Well, maybe just two.

Hogue on Thursday said every employee with a badge will be required to pass a physical agility test within a month. That includes top administration officials, who until now were exempt.

He also said department brass will cease driving high-priced, sport utility vehicles confiscated during drug seizures, as was the case under former Chief Bennie Holder.

Before Hogue took over, only employees below the rank of captain had to take the physical agility test. No longer. Captains, majors, the deputy chief, the assistant chief and the chief will have to prove they are in shape.

It's about "having the same standards for management as for officers," said Hogue, 55, who keeps trim by golfing and running about 20 miles a week.

He said he discussed the subject during a morning meeting on Thursday, then asked if anyone had objections.

"Not one word," he said. "Staff was 100 percent in agreement that we should all be doing this."

If there is any grumbling, employees are keeping it to themselves.

Maj. Jane Castor said the change "sends a message of leadership" and that the command staff shouldn't have any problems.

"We're a fit bunch," said Castor, a former record-setting University of Tampa basketball player. "The chief wouldn't ask anyone to do anything he wouldn't do himself."

Several captains take the fitness test with their troops as a show of solidarity. Hugh Miller, for instance, continued taking it after he was promoted to captain. He finished his most recent test on Wednesday in 3 minutes, 48 seconds.

"Not bad for a 50-year-old with bad knees," he said.

The test measures how well an officer can get out of a police cruiser, run 200 yards, scale a fence, crawl on the ground and get back into the cruiser. It's designed to simulate a typical foot pursuit, and most candidates can finish the course in 7 minutes or less.

Other police departments have no such requirements for top brass.

"There's an entry level set of requirements but nothing after that," said St. Petersburg police spokesman Bill Proffitt.

Hogue also said Thursday he will abandon the practice of letting department leaders drive pricey vehicles that have been seized from criminals. Like many departments, Tampa uses some of its 43 seized cars in crime prevention programs and in undercover drug operations, where the job often demands flash.

But unlike most departments, the top brass and others who rarely work street investigations were allowed to drive confiscated vehicles under Holder.

Holder drove a black 2001 Lincoln Navigator, complete with DVD player and video screen, worth $35,000. He later switched to a 2001 Chevy Tahoe worth $38,000.

Hogue said the department will continue to use such vehicles in undercover operations, and the SUVs will be reassigned based on who needs the space for extra equipment, not on who has the highest rank.

"The staff will not be driving those vehicles," he said. That opinion mimics what Hogue said during an interview just before he left Fort Walton Beach to come to Tampa.

"Not that there's anything wrong with driving a seized vehicle, I need to make that perfectly clear," he said at the time. "But it is a perception issue. And if you drive up in a Lincoln Navigator to a community watch group, they don't know that's a seized vehicle."

Hogue said Thursday he drives a department-issued Ford Crown Victoria with 27,000 miles. Compared to his days in Fort Walton Beach, the car seems luxurious.

"After that 1996 (Chevy) Lumina, it's a real step up," he said.

Thursday's changes came toward the end of a whirlwind first week on the job for Hogue.

Since being sworn in Monday, he has gotten out of headquarters to visit both police districts, talked with 911 dispatchers and attended a retirement dinner for Gen. Tommy Franks.

He has chatted with police union officials - he was a charter member of the police union in Tampa years ago - and has demonstrated he hasn't forgotten how to fire a weapon since becoming an administrator, turning in a perfect score during a shooting drill at the firing range.

A growing stack of paperwork sits atop his "in" box on the desk in his sparsely decorated office.

Hogue's shortest day: 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

"It's been more than a whirlwind," he said. "If there had been two of me, we could not do everything I've been needing to do."

Still, he seems to never lose energy. He keeps moving, keeps talking, keeps learning.

For all the newness of the job, much of it has been familiar to the chief, who spent 23 years at the Tampa department before leaving to run the Fort Walton Beach department. Much of this first week has been spent greeting old friends and colleaguesand getting acquainted with a new staff.

He joked with his office staff and several familiar faces from his days in Tampa. He smiled and talked about the chief's job being a day-to-day challenge.

"You're only as happy as the mayor is happy with you," he said.

- Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Tamara Lush contributed to this report.

[Last modified September 26, 2003, 01:49:38]


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