Candidates make public pitch for TPD top job

Each of the three candidates seeing to become the next TPD chief had an opportunity to interact with the community. They include Antonio Gilliam, assistant chief with the St. Petersburg Police Department (top), Major Lonnie Smith (middle) and major Lawrence Revell (bottom).

Photos by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

While there was a consensus that having the three finalists bidding to become the next Tallahassee Police Department chief meet the public was a good idea, some in the crowd expressed a wait-and-see sentiment.

Rudy Ferguson, whose New Birth Tabernacle of Praise is in the Frenchtown area, has been a TPD advocate for years while fighting crime in the area. He admitted that the promises and proposals from the candidates sounded great, but he’s heard most of it before.

“I’ve come to realize that none of it works unless they’re going to prioritize what they say they’re going to do,” Ferguson said. “The proof is always in the pudding. 

“I’ve got to see it; how they work with the people of Frenchtown in particular. If no one trusts them, then the community is going to become stagnant. We’ll go right back to the days when White officers and Black citizen didn’t work.”

The three candidates – TPD majors Lawrence Revell and Lonnie Scott and Antonio Gilliam, the assistant chief with the St. Petersburg Police Department, spoke last Monday at a community meet-and-greet in the gymnasium in the Lincoln Center in Frenchtown.

After their presentations each of the candidates were asked questions by city department leaders who sat in front of the podium, with members of the public seated in rows of chairs behind them.

TPD was left looking for a new chief when Michael DeLeo resigned in July. TPD veteran Steve Outlaw, who was one of the original candidates for the job, has been the acting chief.

Gilliam, 41, and Revell, 52, boast of their ties to Tallahassee’s south side. Scott, 64, focused more on connecting with young people.

“We are losing the battle,” Scott said. “We are losing the public trust. Right now we are not a part of the community. We are apart from the community.

“We need to sit down with some of these young people and find out what we can do to make life better.”

The process of having public engagement and the transparency of the process was necessary, said Henry Lewis, a former county commissioner. 

“Having the venue and this opportunity for people to hear each one of the candidates, the chance to question them one-on-one as they walk around, gives the people a better perspective of them,” Lewis said. 

Lewis said he was especially pleased that leaders from city departments were able to question the candidates. He also was impressed by the man’s willingness to engage the community and how they intend to do it.

 “We’ve got individuals who bring different things to the table,” Lewis said. “My personal view is that we need an individual who is close to the community; close to the people that he will have to connect with and be able to bring contemporary and innovative solutions to the problems that we face right now.

“If we have not looked outside of Tallahassee we don’t know what other opportunities there are out there. We need to bring those other things that other people use to Tallahassee.”

Gilliam is the only candidate among the three from out of town.

If he is hired, Gilliam said, he would create “a safer and cohesive community.”

Part of how he intends to do that is by creating a 1,000 step concept that would require officers to take 10 minutes to walk with people in the community that they are policing.

“It harkens back to the days of walking the beat,” he said. 

He also plans to involve residence in surveillance of their communities. That, he said, would go hand in hand with having a special undercover group.

The selection process hasn’t been without controversy. In mid-November, Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor was joined by relatives of George “Lil Nuke” Williams in a protest of Revell as a finalist for the TPD job.

Williams was shot by Revell in 1996 during a clash between residents of the he Springfield Apartments and TPD officers. Revell was clear of any wrongdoing.

The issue wasn’t a point of discussion when the three candidates went public, although it was seemingly on the minds of many in the crowd. Revell was given standing ovations when he went to the podium and when he left. 

The incident from 20 years ago was obviously on his mind.

“Everything comes from relationships,” Revell said. “Our community has to know that we care about their lives; not just enforcing the law,” he said. “We want to be able to sit down at the table and have the tough conversation.”

O’Neal Jackson, a former coach, said he was impressed what Revell and the other two candidates had to say. However, he wasn’t totally convinced.

“On paper, things are great,” he said. “I’ve come to realize that none of it works unless they’re going to prioritize what they say they’re going to do.”