Locals fail final cut for new Sarasota police chief

The Sarasota Police Department on Adams Lane overlooks Payne Park. Photo by Norman Schimmel

The original list of 98 applicants to become Sarasota’s next police chief was whittled to 13 this week. None of the five local candidates made it. A source close to the selection process, who asked not to be named, said that reflected a preference in the police force for an outside candidate.

Two of the 13 finalists have experience in the suburbs of Chicago, where incoming City Manager Tom Barwin worked (although not the same towns). Four are “big city” cops, much like former Sarasota Chief Peter Abbott, who came from the New York Police Department. And all three female applicants emerged as finalists. In alphabetical order, the finalists are as follows:

• Greg Anderson: police chief of Oak Forest, Ill. He was a 27-year veteran of the Aurora, Ill., force before becoming chief in Campton Hills, Ill., then Oak Forest. He was a member of a police advisory committee in Aurora that comprised representatives of civil rights organizations, neighborhood leaders, clergy and police officers. “The committee’s role was advisory, and the department was committed to collaboration with the committee,” he wrote as part of his application.

• Colleen Conygham: supervisory FBI special agent in charge of security operations in Washington, D.C., and a 26-year veteran of the bureau. “As a Supervisory Special Agent in the FBI’s San Juan [Puerto Rico] Division for two years, I managed a public corruption squad which was credited with outstanding accomplishments for the arrest of over fifty law enforcement officials,” she wrote.

• Dennis Crispo: the retired assistant chief of West Palm Beach. “There is never one simple answer to decreasing crime. The City of Sarasota has many similarities to the City of West Palm Beach including crime issues,” he wrote. “Every community culture is different and therefore it may take a combination of strategies to achieve success.”

• Bernadette DiPino: police chief of Ocean City, Md. “As police chief one of the greatest compliments I ever received was given to me by a restaurant owner in Ocean City as I sat with one of my commanders eating lunch and discussing strategies. The owner said, ‘You ought to write a book and title it How to keep a City Quiet.’ I reflected on his comment. My first thought was the key to our success is community policing. This philosophy has led our community to feel we live in a safe place.”

• Dennis Fowler: retired chief deputy of Pinellas County. He did a brief analysis of six Florida West Coast cities of similar size, finding, “Sarasota has the second highest rate of reported violent crimes per 100,000 residents, and the highest rate of reported property crimes per 100,000 residents. Based on these statistics, it is clear that the police department should explore new strategies to reduce Part 1 violent and property crimes.”

• George Markert: a 27-year veteran of the Rochester, N.Y., department, he is on leave as executive deputy chief to direct the city’s Office of Public Integrity, overseeing procurement and auditing standards. “Reducing costs and reducing crime has become a necessary skill set for chiefs across the country,” he wrote. “Over the next five years the City of Sarasota will undergo many changes that will require the chief and the department to change with them.”

• Michael Rock: a 31-year veteran of the City of Glendale, Calif. police force, now commanding the Investigative Services Division as a captain. Glendale is a large suburb of Los Angeles. “Community relationship building is everything to a chief of police,” he wrote. “The chiefs of tomorrow will need to be approachable, friendly and more communicative than in the past.”

• Sal Ruggerio: Tampa Police major and division commander, protecting south and west Tampa. Asked what he would do in his first 90 to 120 days in the Sarasota position, Ruggerio put forth a 10-step plan, including Step 5: “Is the current operational strategy for the department working? If so, make adjustments. If not, make changes.”

• Jerry Speziale: deputy superintendent of police for the New York and New Jersey Port Authority and previous sheriff of Passaic County, N.J. “Simply stated, police chiefs will have to do more with less, making their departments more operationally efficient,” he wrote. “In dealing with transitional issues, I offer a profound passion to serve as the Chief of Police for the City of Sarasota and will be a highly visible uniformed member of the department, accessible, credible, committed and confident.”

• Mark Teunis: major with the Clearwater Police Department, running the Service Division. “A modern police department must find ways to create proactive policing measures such as surveys, high volume calls, civil disorder or fear, decay or blighted areas, juvenile problem areas, best practices, graduation rates, truancy rates, school discipline rates, etc.,” he wrote. “Police departments today operate in a much more challenging environment and have a broader level of responsibility.”

• Tonya Vincent: deputy police chief, Richmond, Va., and previously the acting deputy chief of the Arlington County, Va., Police Department. “Being the first African American female captain in the history of the Arlington County Police Department inspired me to encourage other minorities to take advantage of promotional opportunities and to be successful. It was important for me to leave a leadership legacy within my agency,” she wrote. “The majority of my career has been based around community policing.”

• Mark Whitman, retired public safety commissioner of York, Pa. “Each agency in which I have been the police chief is firmly situated in the Problem Oriented Policing (POP) camp,” he wrote. “The main benefit of [Professor David] Kennedy’s strategies in close association with POP is the developing of informal lines of communication that improved the relationship among the police and community but also required communications to implement critical thinking in the criminal justice agencies in order to implement new approaches to combating violence associated with guns, drugs and gangs.”

• Gary Yandura: 24-year veteran of the Lake Forest, Ill., Police Department, before moving to Georgia to be chief in College Park and then Hiram, both suburbs of Atlanta. “I have vast experience in improving community relations through programs, community involvement, and most importantly good communication skills which are most important in any effort to improve relations,” he wrote.

Incoming City Manager Tom Barwin begins work on Tuesday, Sept. 3. Selection of a new chief will be one of his first decisions. The choice is his alone.

The Sarasota police chief job pays between $87,000 and $146,000, and it offers a magnificent office on the top floor of the new city police department building overlooking Payne Park. The office comes with a private bathroom and shower — and it goes without saying, the chief gets the best cruiser in the fleet.