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34th St. boosters complain of loss

The area's community police officer for about four years was transferred. Some think politics played a role.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 20, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Residents and business people are trying to reinstate a popular community police officer whom they credit with helping to clean up unsavory activity along the 34th Street N corridor.

Officer Sandy Minor was assigned to another section of the city this fall. The transfer came after Minor took a 31/2-month medical leave because of elbow surgery, but the move surprised 34th Street boosters and caused some to suspect that politics played a part.

"We're very serious about getting Sandy back," said Peter Sharp, who owns a Day's Inn hotel and is president of the 34th Street Business Association.

Jim Biggerstaff, president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations, wants a meeting among 34th Street watchdogs, top police officials and perhaps Mayor David Fischer to discuss Minor's return.

"Sandy was like the head of this 34th Street (policing) group," Biggerstaff said.

Minor had been the area's community police officer for about four years. Previously, she was the partner of James Knight, the officer who shot a black youth in October 1996, sparking the civil disturbances of that year.

Assistant police Chief Chuck Harmon said Minor was transferred because of the medical leave.

"She went out and had some medical reasons and had some surgery. When she left and was out, someone else filled in and that person is going to stay," Harmon said.

The corridor has been a target of a city neighborhood team that, among other activities, has worked to reduce crime and eliminate code violations. Prostitution and illegal drug activity have been off-and-on problems for years along the street.

"Sandy was very good and kept these people in check," Sharp said.

He said communication with the department and community police officers has not been good since the departure of Minor and Rodney Tower, who was reassigned after a promotion.

"They knew when the streets were hot and when to be there," Sharp said. He said he has noticed an increase in illegal activity since the two officers' reassignments.

Minor, who now patrols the city's west side, could not be reached for comment.

But Bill LauBach, the police union's director, called her transfer "very unusual" and said neighborhood groups are normally influential in keeping community police officers they like. "The stability we looked for through the neighborhood partnership is gone," said Lorraine Margeson, a crime watch leader in the area.

Said LauBach: "I think there's more to this than meets the eye. The illness, I've been made aware of that as a reason, but I don't think illness under normal circumstances is all of it."

Minor has been named in a police department investigation relating to the circulation of police rosters, which are records showing shift assignments. Those documents were said to contain handwritten references about department staffing, a probable issue in the upcoming city elections.

"I think (Minor's transfer) is politically motivated," LauBach said. "I think they know Lorraine is backing Kathleen Ford. They're spending a whole lot of man hours trying to prove something that didn't happen."

Ford, a mayoral candidate, has been a critic of police Chief Goliath Davis.

Harmon said he could not comment on the investigation, which is continuing. But he said it did not have anything to do with Minor's being moved.

"People are associating one with the other," Harmon said.

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