St. Petersburg will soon have a new Chief of Police – and now the second-guessing begins.
On Saturday, this blog reported that Jerry Geier, 52, currently serving as chief in Goodyear, Ariz., was the most likely person to replace Chuck Harmon, and not – as it was widely hoped — controversial Assistant Chief Melanie Bevan.
But, just as quickly, an email from Geier on Sunday confirmed that he was also no longer under consideration.
As the final verdict from Mayor Rick Kriseman looms, much of the attention focuses on who he did not choose, particularly Bevan.
Geier and the 47-year-old Bevan had been among the four finalists considered for the job of the city’s top cop, including Thaddeus Reddish, assistant chief of the New Haven Police Department in Connecticut and Terrence Pierce, a captain at the Montgomery County Department of Police in Rockville, Md. Both were informed earlier of Kriseman’s decision.
The initial reaction to Bevan not making the cut was as varied (and contentious) as the process itself.
And nowhere did that play out better than on St. Petersburg City Councilman Steve Kornell’s Facebook page.
Rejoinders over Kreisman’s decision, which has not been officially announced, ranged from the insightful to the absurd – as do most discussions that play out on Facebook.
“As we all know,” said one person sarcastically, “everyone outside of Florida does a better job than the people who actually live and work here.”
Silliness aside, one thing was sure; many of Kornell’s online friends believed Bevan was the most qualified candidate and that politics is what really got in the way of the city naming its first female Chief of Police.
“In the entire history of the City of St. Petersburg there has never been a single woman who has been deemed qualified to lead the department, by any Mayor, ever and apparently this will not change this time,” Kornell said. “I find it notable because, in my view, Dr. Bevan was the most qualified for the position.”
“I am so disappointed that the candidate with by far the best qualifications and vast institutional knowledge, seems to have been the victim of politics,” said another follower. “Missed opportunity in my opinion.”
Bevan is a 28-year veteran of the department, mentored by former chief Harmon, who retired Jan. 6.
Not everyone seemed to agree that she was the right person for the job. A few had the same opinions about Bevan’s position in the SPPD as did former police chief and senior city official Goliath Davis, who saw the need for a new leader to come from outside the department.
“The police chief in St. Petersburg occupied a very large stage and given the current state of affairs within the department,” Davis said in a June 12 editorial in The Weekly Challenger. “There is not a candidate in house capable of providing the stability and direction needed to “right the ship” and move the department and ultimately the city forward.”
“An internal candidate ensures instability and discord,” he added.
With tensions currently existing within the department, bringing in an outsider may have been Kriseman’s best strategy. Others, such as Mike Deeson of WTSP/10 News, also questioned Bevan’s decision to slash the tents of the homeless camped out in the city back in January 2007.
“It was a dark day within the city and I’ll never forget that,” Bevan told Deeson in an interview on June 20. “But I’ve learned from that, I’ve grown from that and I think we’ve all learned and grown from that.”
Kornell, along with newly elected Amy Foster and Darden Rice, make three LGBT members of the St. Petersburg City Council.
Being Facebook, (sadly) it was also not surprising the conversation on his page included unseemly speculations on Bevan’s sexuality, suggesting that was a possible reason she was not chosen.
“Is she with the ‘honeycomb’ caucus,” one person asked. “She looks like she may be. But then again, with female officers I always assume that’s the case.”
“Honeycomb” refers to an anti-gay slur made by Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter, a longtime city activist who Creative Loafing Tampa called last November a “noted homophobe.” Lassiter made the comment as a way of stirring up trouble during Rice’s previous City Council run more than seven years ago.
Fortunately, that distasteful line of comments did not stick.
Kornell, for his part, stays firmly in the Bevan camp.
“I absolutely believe in shattering glass ceilings,” he said earlier. “Sometimes you think you are there and the find out the glass is double paned, super resistant glass and being the most qualified is not enough to do it.”
The Tampa Bay Times reports that Kriseman’s inbox was inundated with emails from department employees, neighborhood leaders, residents and others in law enforcement, many promoting Bevan.
At a forum last month, writes Kameel Stanley of the Times, two-thirds of the public who met the four finalists supported Bevan. Geier was a distant second.
Kriseman’s decision will be announced officially sometime next week.