Tallahassee residents packed the Lincoln Center on Brevard Street Monday evening to meet and talk with the city’s top three finalists for chief of police.
Tallahassee residents milled about, snacking on hors d’Oeuvres, comparing notes and talking with the candidates during the meet and greet. While many said they’re pleased with the process so far and impressed with the finalists, they agreed--whoever is chosen will have some big issues to tackle.
Tallahassee resident Frank Williams said he thinks the new chief will need to work to regain public trust. “I think the biggest issue they’re going to have to take care of is communicating with the public that they really care about Tallahassee—being able to work with neighborhoods, work with citizens.”
Christi Griffin said she’s worried about crime. “My biggest concern—I hear them talk about homelessness, but I don’t hear about that as much as you do the violent crimes. The shootings concern me greatly.”
Before the meet and greet each candidate gave a brief presentation. Cynthia Barber who oversees community engagement and public safety asked candidates to answer one question: “So, the question we asked was if you were afforded the opportunity to serve as the chief of police for the city of Tallahassee, you’d be given the opportunity as well as the challenge of making enhancements in public safety in Tallahassee in measureable ways. What specific strategies would you implement to achieve that? And how would you engage the Tallahassee community?
Candidate Antonio Gilliam said he’d require every officer to get out of their vehicle and walk through neighborhoods every day.
“Everyone from the police chief, meaning myself, to the newest officer in the field will take 10 minutes out of their day to stop what they’re doing and walk around the neighborhoods and walk around the businesses, walk around the park, walk into churches, if we’re invited—walk up on someone’s step and just chit chat and have a conversation,” Gilliam said.
Gilliam is currently the assistant chief of police for the St. Petersburg Police Department. But he said he grew up in Tallahassee and says he’s familiar with many of the problems faced by the community. As chief he said he would create a special surveillance group to help address property crime and violent crime.
“Focusing particularly on crime patterns such as vehicle burglary, vehicle theft, residential burglary and aggravated assault—which also means shooting. The special surveillance group will have a flexible schedule based upon intelligence led policing and tips and information from the community,” Gilliam said.
Tallahassee’s crime rate is a concern for candidate Lonnie Scott as well.
“Violent crime continues to decrease, but the gun violence does not. And there is a reason for that. And this right here I think is the heart—when you wake up in the morning and hear that some 16-year-old child has lost their life,” Scott said “And my question as a police officer and especially as chief would be what could we have done to stop it.”
Lonnie Scott has been working with the Tallahassee Police Department for the past five years. He’s currently the Administrative Services Bureau commander. He said the answer to that question likely lies with the young people in the community.
“You know we’re talking to parents. We’re talking to citizens who are not involved. But we’re not talking to the people who are causing the problem,” Scott said. “We need to talk to some of these young folks. Sit in a room with them—find out what’s going on. What can we do to make your life a little better? How can we resolve some of these conflicts? Why are you killing one another? We need to sit down with them and have some of those conversations.”
Scott said as chief he’d work with the state attorney to require court ordered participation in programs like TEMPO—a program that helps 16 and 17 year-olds earn a GED or get vocational training to get a job. Lawrence Revell also mentioned TEMPO during his presentation. He wants to create a pathway that helps TEMPO participants go on to become Community Service Officers.
“So they’re now in the police department and they’re now working with us and after a predetermined amount of time – two or three years—we will establish a clear pathway for them to become sworn police officer. Once they become sworn police officers we take those police officers and put them back in the quadrant they grew up in. They immediately become role models and mentors within their community creating a circle of success,” Revell said.
Revell said his goal is for half of the TEMPO Community Service officers to become sworn officers.
Revell who has worked for the Tallahassee Police Department for nearly 30 years and currently oversees the criminal investigation bureau appeared to be a favorite among many attendees who gave him a standing ovation following his presentation. Revell has faced some controversy after County Commissioner Bill Proctor held a press conference earlier this month saying Revell should not be included in the top candidate list because he fatally shot a young black man in 23 years ago. The man who was shot had several warrants out for his arrest. He hit Revell’s partner with a car and then appeared to move the car toward Revell. Revell shot him after repeatedly warning him to stop the vehicle. A grand jury cleared Revell following the incident. City officials are asking community members for any feedback they have about the candidates. Comments can be made online on the city of Tallahassee’s homepage. City Manage Reese Goad is expected to make a final hiring decision by the end of the year.