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    Largo police chief search shifts gears

    By ERIC STIRGUS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 20, 2000


    LARGO -- The city's search for a new police chief has shifted to Lester Aradi, deputy police chief of Buffalo Grove, Ill., after the top candidate for the job withdrew his name from consideration for the position.

    Onetime leading contender Greg Morrison, police chief of Vail, Colo., called City Manager Steven Stanton on Monday to say he was no longer interested in being Largo's police chief.

    Stanton, who visited Vail late last week with others from the police department, said he wasn't sure if Morrison was the right person for the job and expressed his concerns to Morrison before leaving Vail on Saturday.

    "I just didn't feel there was a strong fit . . . that could raise the bar for our organization," Stanton said Tuesday.

    Morrison, who said he had been asked to stay by some of his fellow officers, council members and some residents, said he decided that Largo wasn't the right place for him.

    "It just didn't feel quite right to me," he said Tuesday.

    City officials will visit Buffalo Grove, a village of about 40,000 residents about 35 miles northwest of Chicago, in early January to interview Aradi and talk to village officials and community leaders.

    Aside from the 5 inches of snow Buffalo Grove got Monday night, Aradi said he sees many similarities between the village and Largo. Despite being second on Largo's list, Aradi, 49, said he would like the chance to lead the department.

    "I am still very much excited," he said Tuesday.

    Improving the police department's community policing program has been key to Stanton and other city officials. Stanton, who will choose the next police chief, wants someone who has a successful community policing program that could be replicated in Largo.

    "I want to say, "I want you to do what you are doing here in Largo,' " said Stanton.

    He said he didn't see that in Vail, a resort town visited by many movie stars and politicians. He pointed to Vail's voluntary DUI checkpoint program, where drivers who appear impaired are encouraged to find other ways of getting home -- rather than being arrested.

    "I don't know if these programs would work in a more metropolitan community," Stanton said.

    That leaves city officials looking at Aradi.

    Aradi has been second in command of the Buffalo Grove Police Department since 1998. In his current position, Aradi takes part in virtually every aspect of the police department. He also teaches justice administration at Roosevelt University in Chicago and Schaumburg, Ill.

    Aradi believes community policing begins in the values of an organization, not necessarily the programs it implements.

    "This is the philosophy that I would bring to the Largo community," Aradi wrote in response to a questionnaire, explaining his vision of community policing to city officials. "An organizational culture starting at the top that puts a heavy emphasis on quality of life issues and respect for all, even those we arrest."

    City officials were high on Aradi, but listed him second on their wish list because Aradi has not been chief.

    Aradi insisted that he can do a good job as Largo's police chief.

    "Many times, a deputy chief has a little extra fire in their soul, and I certainly have that," he said.

    Stanton said the city would restart the search process if he and other city officials are not comfortable with Aradi. Currently, the Largo police department is being led by Acting Chief Judy Gershkowitz.

    "The only thing more discouraging than going out again is choosing the wrong person," he said.

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