Nearly 100 vie to be next Sarasota police chief

Sarasota Police Chief Mikel Hollaway

A long blue line of 96 men and two women have tossed their peaked caps into the race to be the next city police chief. Current Chief Mikel Hollaway will retire in October.

The hiring decision will be one of the first in the administration of incoming City Manager Tom Barwin, and it will be scrutinized both inside the new police headquarters building and throughout the city. The decision rests with Barwin alone; it requires no “confirmation” by the City Commission.

The city’s Human Resources Division released a list of the 98 names without any affiliations or other information. Just the names. This story is built on Internet research, with all the flaws and faults of any Internet search, and with very limited double-sourcing. With that said, here’s a synopsis of the top contenders (and a peek at the bottom ones, too).

The favorites

Hands down, the man to bet on is Sarasota Police Capt. Paul Sutton. He’s been Hollaway’s No. 2 for the past three years, and he is strongly endorsed by the outgoing chief. Barwin will need powerful arguments to offset Sutton’s local backing.

An alternative with vast expertise is Anthony Schembri. As a rising star in the New York Police Department, he was appointed commissioner of corrections with a staff of 12,000. In 2004 , Florida Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, another large bureaucracy. He moved from there to serve as county administrator of Citrus County in 2008 and 2009. He’s now a University of Florida criminology professor, and he is asking for the Sarasota chief’s badge.

Two more Floridians round out the highest tier: Eugenio Bernal, deputy police chief of Orlando, and Maj. Mark Teunis in Clearwater. Both were finalists in last year’s competition to find a new police chief for Venice. Interestingly enough, Sarasota Interim City Manager Terry Lewis (former chief of the North Port Police) was also a finalist in the Venice race. Now he’s paring down the Sarasota list for Barwin.

The locals

Sutton isn’t the only candidate with Sarasota Police Department credentials. Two retired captains have put their hats in the ring – Thomas Duncan and Gerald Lacertosa. The former is teaching at the police academy at Sarasota County Technical Institute; the latter just made sergeant in the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport Police Department.

The third local candidate is SPD Det. Jack Carter, who works white-collar criminal cases.

The roamers

Police officers, as a rule, are not migratory. They seldom hop from town to town. However, three applicants seeking the Sarasota job have demonstrated the desire to move around. Roy Melnick is chief of the Los Lunas PD in New Mexico, and the former chief in St. Johns, Ariz., as well as Ashland, Mass. He earned his captain’s bars in the Londonderry PD in New Hampshire.

Jeff Gorley is the police coordinator in Passaic, N.J. Before that, he was the director of public safety in Waynesboro, Va. He earned his stripes in the Opa-locka Police Department. Opa-locka, by the way, is home to one of Florida’s notorious smugglers’ airports – contraband in, cash out.

George Markert is the deputy chief of the Rochester, N.Y., force. He’s been looking very hard at moving, having been a finalist in the search for a new chief in both Kansas City, Mo., and Spokane, Wash. Now his eyes are on Sarasota.

Finally, this list includes Michael Gugliotta, chief of the Waterbury Conn., PD. Last year he was a finalist in the search for a new chief for Miami.

The fresh air

Climbing the ranks to become a police executive could grind the creativity out of a Picasso. There are thousands upon thousands of rules and procedures that must be internalized, and a chief must have the ability to make split-second decisions that have to be correct every time. But there are men and women who rise through the ranks to keep an eye on the future. Several are seeking to be Sarasota’s next chief.

Louis Scott Silverii is chief of the Thibodaux, La., Police Department. He was in the news recently when a disabled child was beheaded in his jurisdiction. But he also writes provocative academic papers, including one that starts, “Every year 650,000 people are released from prison. Two-thirds will be rearrested within three years.”

Kurt Wahlen, chief in Racine, Wis. until last year, seems a man of scary rectitude. In 2009, he busted the mayor in a sex sting. His local newspaper quoted him as saying when he retired, “My handcuffs have been on some of the finest citizens of Racine.” Just the guy for crime in the suites.

Nathan Elledge is the police chief of a brand new town: Sammanish, Wash., which is five years old. He’s doing something local efficiency experts say Sarasota should do – outsourcing. Elledge cut a deal with King County to handle special weapons and tactics, the marine patrol, forensics and other duties for the police department.

The women

It’s still a man’s world for those in blue uniforms, but women are climbing the ranks and ready to lead. Tonya Vincent is a deputy chief in Richmond, Va., who runs the administrative division.

Bernadette DePino already wears the chief’s badge in Ocean City, Md. (note – not Ocean City, N.J.). She is a fourth-generation police officer who rose through the ranks to become chief in 2003. A SWAT commander for four years, she is the recipient of 16 commendations, and she has been named “Officer of the Year” three times.

The losers

James “where’s the safety” Skinner was police chief of Coral Gables until he accidentally shot a toilet in the department’s bathroom. He was putting his Glock .45 back in the holster when it discharged. It was his second “accidental discharge” in a year.

After the jokes died down (but were never quite forgotten), Skinner quit that job in 2003. He took the chief’s job in the much smaller municipality of Golden Beach, Fla.

Alas, last year he had to resign again after three of his men were arrested for fraud. While Skinner wasn’t under scrutiny, his department was. Now he’d like to lead the Sarasota Police Department. The big question is … to where?

Another cocked hat in the ring belongs to Walter Zalisko. He’s a recognized expert on Russian and Ukrainian organized crime and a veteran of the Jersey City PD. He came to Oak Hill, Fla., to be its police chief. “We have had nothing but chaos and division since the chief was hired,” a newspaper reported in 2006. Zalisko reportedly filed complaints against three of his city commissioners. Zalisko, too, is looking to lead Sarasota’s finest.

The process

The Sarasota Police Department headquarters faces Payne Park. Photo by Norman Schimmel

The application window for the Sarasota chief’s job was open for the month of June, closing on July 6. A total of 98 applications were received.

Because personal information on active and retired police officers is not subject to Florida’s Open Meetings and Public Records Law, The Sarasota News Leader was furnished only with a list of applicants’ names by the city’s Human Resources Department, at the instruction of the City Auditor and Clerk’s Office.

The interim city manager and Human Resources staff are winnowing down the list of 98. Lewis hopes to leave a memo containing a handful of finalists’ names for incoming City Manager Tom Barwin to read when Barwin starts his new job in early September.

Sources indicate the list is now “less than 30 names,” but Human Resources Manager April Bryan refused to confirm or deny the number. Lewis says he has a meeting on Friday, Aug. 10, to further reduce the number of candidates.

The 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.