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So far, top cop job draws little interest

The strong economy as well as the challenges faced by police chiefs are cited as reasons. More resumes are expected, however.

By ERIC STIRGUS

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2000


LARGO -- The last time the city conducted a national search for a police chief, 240 people applied for the job.

The year was 1992. City officials placed advertisements for the job that August in national magazines and newsletters. The applications were due by the end of September.

This time around, Largo started placing advertisements in national trade magazines earlier this month. Resumes are due by Oct. 6.

So far, six people have applied.

Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert, the man in charge of this part of the search, is not panicking. He believes Largo will receive 50 to 75 resumes by Oct. 6, insisting the six-week window for resumes is enough time to draw qualified candidates.

But some observers believe an underlying factor in the lack of candidates is the growing difficulty of leading a police department.

It's not easy being the top cop, said Donald Shinnamon.

He should know.

Last year, Shinnamon resigned as Gainesville's police chief amid complaints from two high-ranking African-American officers that he was not doing enough to promote blacks within the department. The local NAACP had asked for his resignation. Two separate investigations completed after Shinnamon's departure found no basis for the allegations.

Shinnamon now works for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, where he is in charge of management studies for police departments and looks into such matters as the dynamics behind searches for police chiefs. He said the average number of resumes for a police chief opening is usually between 100 and 150. Belleair received about 70 applications for its police chief opening earlier this year.

Shinnamon said the average tenure of a police chief is about 21/2 years. He was chief in Gainesville for just under two years.

"Being a police chief has become a volatile position for a lot of folks," he said. "They like the security of staying in one position. For many, the position of being No. 2 is a lot easier than being No. 1."

Shinnamon was once a No. 2, rising to the rank of chief of operations for the Baltimore County, Md., Police Department. He admitted he was leery of taking that next step, waiting until he was eligible for a good pension with that department before applying for a job as a chief. Largo's acting chief, Judy Gershkowitz, who was theNo. 2 person in the department, has said she has no interest in being chief.

"If you are the chief officer of any organization, there are going to be trials and tribulations," said St. Petersburg police Chief Goliath Davis, who has encountered a heavy dose of criticism in recent months. "You have to have a lot of self-esteem and you have to withstand short-term hits for long-term gains."

Schubert said the lack of interest in the Largo chief's job has more to do with a strong national economy than the difficulty of the position. It's harder, he said, to find job candidates when everybody is employed.

Another factor, he believes, is Largo's decision to advertise specifically in law enforcement trade publications like Florida Police Chief and Law and Order. In the past, the city also advertised for the position in newspapers. That helped draw more applicants, but many of them were not qualified for the job.

City officials say if they are not satisfied with the pool of candidates, they are willing to restart the process. Largo hopes to have a new chief in place by February.

Schubert said he is not surprised by the small number of resumes. He acknowledged that the city has had difficulty attracting a large pool of qualified job applicants for a multitude of jobs.

"In the last two or three years, we have gotten fewer resumes than we used to get," he said.

But that hasn't stopped Shinnamon from sending his resume to Largo. He has friends in the Tampa Bay area and believes the job would be just the right fit for him.

"It's big enough to be a full-service agency, but small enough that you can get to know everybody," he said.

The Largo Police Department is a medium-sized outfit, with about 125 sworn officers and a $11.2-million annual budget. The agency is trying to recover from a scandal involving allegations of sexual conduct between officers and members of the department's youth Explorer post, a Boy Scout program that provides on-the-job training for youths ages 14 to 21. Outgoing Chief Jerry Bloechle said the stress from the investigation was a factor in his decision to retire.

Schubert hopes the situation will not dissuade people from applying for the job.

"Certainly, that may affect some people's decision to apply for the job," he said. "I would hope that that one situation would not stop someone from applying for the position."

No one from the Largo Police Department has applied for the job.

One man applying for the job said he believes he can restore credibility to the department. James Marron, who lists on his resumea 16-year career with the New York City Police Department and a brief stint last year with the United Nations Civilian Police, sent his resume in early June, a week after Bloechle announced his retirement.

Marron, a self-described "street cop," said he would lead by encouraging officers to feel they can speak freely about any potential wrongdoing within the department.

"I think I can do the job very well," he said.

In the past, applicants flooded any Florida police department when an opening for a chief was available, recalled former Largo and St. Petersburg police Chief Darrel Stephens. The desire to apply for such jobs has dwindled in recent years, he said, as more cities look within their department for a chief.

Still, Stephens, who is now police chief of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., believes Largo will be okay if it gets 25 to 30 resumes.

"It's a good police department," he said. "They have good people. They've had some challenges and that's something that they've dealt with. It's behind them and they should move on to the future."

-- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report, which uses information from Times files.

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