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By BRYAN GILMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 15, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- Police Chief Goliath Davis III is right that the Police Department has been staffed above its "authorized strength" of sworn officers for months, according to public records that mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford implied might prove him wrong.
At a campaign forum Tuesday, Ford said the Police Department has "never attained our full, authorized strength, and it makes it hard to serve folks (who call for an officer) timely if we don't have enough people."
Davis confronted her from the lectern during a question-and-answer period and accused her of "distorting the record." Ford then wondered aloud whether public records would back up Davis' assertion that the department exceeds authorized strength.
They do. The department's authorized strength of 538 officers is the number of positions for which the City Council budgeted salaries.
A report dated Friday shows that the Police Department has 10 more than that on the payroll, 548. Of those, 524 are full-fledged police officers, 21 are salaried cadets in training, and three are new hires who will begin duty or training after a physical examination.
On Tuesday night, Davis had said the department had 550 officers on the payroll. That was the number from the previous week's report, before one officer and one cadet resigned.
Ford criticizes the fact that the number of working officers, or "actual strength," is lower than the "authorized strength" number of 538. She thinks there should be 538 full-fledged officers on duty in the city and dislikes counting cadets in training in the number.
"Look at the actual sworn officers -- not the authorized, not the cadets," she said Wednesday.
But she specifically referred to "authorized strength" Tuesday and previously when saying the department falls short. Unless the mayor and City Council budget a separate pool of salary money (as has been done in the past), Davis must pay his cadets out of his 538 authorized salaries, he said.
Mayor David Fischer does permit Davis to temporarily exceed the authorized strength number when Davis anticipates retirements, the chief said Wednesday. That prevents the staff from fluctuating as widely.
"She has the correct data," Davis said of Ford. "She just pulls out little pieces of it."