One thing I learned in five years at the St. Petersburg Police Department was: cops don’t like to be told what to do. They tell people what to do. Being in charge of every situation is what police officers are taught to do from the very first day of training. That’s how they keep you, me and themselves safe. Intimidation over force. Always in charge. A cop never forgets those lessons even as he or she rises through the ranks.
When Bill Foster announced the Foster Forty during the 2009 campaign and the first 10 items were focused on the Police Department, there was some noticeable bristling among the command staff. Since the alternative, Kathleen Ford, had vowed to replace the Chief and likely the rest of the command staff, Foster was the lesser of two evils, from a Police Department perspective. There was general support for Foster’s election.
However, when the Foster Forty became a reality, were they really going to let a mayor tell them how to police? Not likely. There was no outward rejection of the ideas, just a steady slowing down and gradual resistance.
Michael Van Sickler chronicles some of the issues in his Tampa Bay Times article “Foster’s Pledges to Crack Down on St. Petersburg Crime Falters. You can read more in my previous post What Really Happened with the St. Pete Police Surveillance Cameras”.
The real problem is a lack of leadership. In a December post “Does Bill Foster Really Want to be Mayor” I touched upon this problem.
Bill Foster routinely does not follow up. He simply throws out an idea expects his management team to fulfill his wishes. Ask any CEO and they will tell you no matter how good the staff, you must give clear direction and follow up. Foster does neither. When things don’t go like you want them to, you must take corrective action.
The only way the Top 10 Foster Forty initiatives were going to get into place at the Police Department, as Bill Foster promised them, and imagined them, was if he camped out in Chuck Harmon’s office and forced the issues. That’s not Bill’s style.
Van Sickler’s article reveals just the tip of the iceberg, because there is much more. From candid conversations with City Council members, to peers on the city staff, the leadership problem is serious and growing.
The Charter says the Mayor is in charge. He needs to be.