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Consultant to take look at managing of police

Officer retainment and other practices were cited as issues for review.

By CARRIE WEIMAR
Published April 28, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - After a heated debate, the City Council agreed Thursday to hire a consultant to review the Police Department's management practices.

The consultant will look at everything from recruiting policies to response time. But it was the department's approach to community policing that sparked disagreement among council members.

In the past year, neighborhood groups have accused police Chief Chuck Harmon of weakening the city's community policing program. The city's 43 community policing officers have been increasingly pulled from their neighborhoods for special assignments or additional duties, such as responding to 911 calls.

Council member Earnest Williams defended the chief, saying it made sense to send officers where they were most needed.

"We've oversold the community policing thing as some sort of social services organization," said Williams, whose district includes parts of Midtown, the mostly poor, mostly black area south of Central Avenue.

But council member John Bryan said it's unfair to taxpayers to shift all the police resources to the inner city. While his northern St. Petersburg district is relatively low-crime, his constituents still want a response to speeders and other minor crimes, he said.

"In those peoples' minds, those are just as big a crime," Bryan said.

"If somebody's being shot at, that's a big difference," Williams argued.

"They pay a lot of money in taxes and they deserve to get services," Bryan said.

Council member Richard Kriseman broke up the dispute by saying his top priority for the consultant was to determine why the Police Department had so much trouble recruiting and retaining officers.

The Police Department has been struggling to retain officers in recent years, raising concerns about response times and officer safety. In 2002, 54 officers quit, many for other law enforcement agencies in the Tampa Bay area.

In response, the City Council agreed to provide perks such as take-home patrol cars and interest-free loans to officers who agreed to live in the city.

The problem has lessened in the past few years, although the trend this year is higher. The department lost 22 officers in 2004, eight in 2005 and 12 as of April 3 this year.

Several council members said they wanted the consultant to determine whether the perks were making any difference.

After the council approves the final language, the city will begin soliciting bids for a consultant.

Among the areas they want researched:

Review the organizational structure and compare to other law enforcement agencies.

Project the department's attrition for the next 10 years.

Compare the department's recruiting efforts with other similar agencies.

Review five years of exit interviews and analyze trends for leaving the department.

Compare and contrast the department's response time.

Evaluate the department's community policing model.

Once bids are received, the council will pick a consultant and determine the price.

Harmon, who attended the 2 p.m. meeting, said he thought the scope may be overly broad. But he said he welcomed the study, the first since 1988.

"I may get three or four or five good ideas out of it," Harmon said. "Then it will be money well spent."

Asked if he thought the review meant he no longer had the support of the council, Harmon said no.

"I don't think they're concerned about that," he said. "They're looking at broader issues and that sort of thing."

Carrie Weimar can be reached at 727 892-2273 or cweimar@sptimes.com

ST . PETERSBURG

POLIC E DEPARTMENT

AUTHORIZED NUMBER OF OFFICERS: 540

ACTUAL NUMBER OF OFFICERS: 511

CADETS: 34

NEW HIRES: 10

2006 BUDGET: $76-million

POLICE CHIEF: Chuck Harmon

HIRED: December 2001

[Last modified April 28, 2006, 02:03:48]


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