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A timeline of chiefs

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 20, 2001

  • In 1892, William A. Sloan was the town's first marshal. He had the authority to deputize anybody he chose. He was paid $20 a month plus $1 for each conviction. He stayed seven months, then resigned for reasons that are unclear.
  • In 1921, Edward J. Bidaman was appointed chief. The department had a patrol wagon but no patrol car until Bidaman took office. A power struggle in the city began in 1923. A new charter changed how the mayor was elected and limited the office's powers. The City Commission fired Bidaman and appointed another chief, but Bidaman refused to hand over keys to the jail. For a while, the city had two police chiefs and two departments.
  • Chief J.R. "Jake" Reichert was an innovator. He had joined the department as a motorcycle officer two decades before he was named chief in 1945. The city began providing equipment and cycles, but not uniforms, to officers. The first black officers also were hired in 1949. He retired in 1958 after 13 years, under no call for his ouster.
  • E. Wilson "Bud" Purdy was a household name in St. Petersburg. He was the head FBI agent in town when he became chief in 1958. He founded a police academy, and green and white became the department's official colors. The first female officer was hired in 1960.
  • James P. "J.P." Morgan Jr., a former New York cop and FBI agent, was hired to oversee the Police and Fire departments. He created a "team policing" concept that eliminated the detective bureau and assigned officers to neighborhoods. The plan was hated, and he was fired in 1973.
  • Charles Gain was hired from Oakland, Calif., to be chief in 1973. He abolished team policing, but he was viewed as unreasonable and his entire command staff was ready to quit when he was fired less than a year into his term.
  • Mack M. Vines, a native of St. Petersburg, became chief in 1974. He stayed until 1980, when he retired. He was later chief in Charlotte, N.C., and Dallas but returned to St. Petersburg to head the criminal justice institute. He also would serve as an interim assistant city manager overseeing public safety.
  • Sam Lynn became chief in 1980, serving 10 years before he retired in 1990. The department started a downtown-deployment team as well as neighborhood crime watch programs. Two black officers sued the city for discrimination. In answer, the city instituted a one-for-one affirmative action policy to guarantee equal advancement for minorities and women.
  • In August 1990, Ernest "Curt" Curtsinger was hired from Los Angeles, where he had been a bureau commander. He began a community policing program in which officers were assigned to individual neighborhoods. Problems arose over promotions and cultural diversity training, sharply dividing the department and the community. He was fired in February 1992. He ran for mayor in 1993 but lost in an election that gave the mayor more power.
  • In December 1992, Darrel W. Stephens was hired as chief. He had been a chief at smaller departments and was head of the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington. He was considered a leader in modern policing, but he did not fare well with officers. In 1997, he left the department to become chief aide to then-Mayor David Fischer. In 1999, Stephens left to become chief in Charlotte, N.C.
  • In June 1997, Goliath Davis III became the first African-American to be named chief in the city where he was born. He joined the department in September 1973 and quickly became a public safety agent who investigated arson and fire deaths. He also became a police recruiter, an instructor and patrol officer. His tenure as chief has been peppered with controversy as he has fought off lawsuits from current and former officers. His relationship with the police union is dismal. Now he becomes deputy mayor for Midtown Economic Development in the Challenge Area.

Source: St. Petersburg Police Department, Times files

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