Coming home as chief

Tragic loss of young friends set Gilliam on law enforcement path

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

Cracking down on gun violence and the otherwise high crime rate in Tallahassee is a daunting task that awaits the city’s new police chief.

Tallahassee native Antonio Gilliam doesn’t see that or a long list of other issues facing TPD as things he can’t fix, though.

He’s learned how in almost 20 years of working for the Police Department of St. Petersburg, where he became assistant chief last year.

“Policing is common sense, folks,” Gilliam said during a press conference streamed on Facebook from St. Petersburg. “It’s not rocket science. I think we do a great job of complicating something that is really common sense.

“I bring a common sense approach to law enforcement no matter where I go so that’s what I bring to Tallahassee.”

He begins his role as the city chief of police Jan. 6, replacing Michael DeLeo who resigned abruptly in July.

“It’s a great opportunity to go back home and to try to make a difference; try to make a change,” he said.

Gilliam was unexpectedly named Tallahassee’s new police chief last Wednesday night. City Manager Reese Goad made the announcement, but admittedly Gilliam said he wasn’t anticipating being chief of his hometown police department as much as he was hoping to become chief in his adopted home of St. Petersburg.

He did, however, know at an early age that he would have a career in law enforcement, while he was growing up in Tallahassee. He attended Oakridge Elementary, then Nims Middle School and later Rickards High School.

Gilliam, who lived just south of the Fair Grounds, recalled spending his summer at Walker/Ford and Jake Gaither community centers.

It was during those years that he lost five of his childhood friends who were murders, Gilliam said. 

“I think that kind of impacted me and led me to this path,” he said during a telephone interview.

Gilliam, 41, counts Tommy Mitchell and former FAMU President Frederick Humphries among his early mentors. They influenced him when he was a participant in the 100 Black Men mentoring program that was started by Mitchell, former president of FAMU National Alumni Association.

Gilliam said there has been plenty tears of joy shed among his family members, including his mother who still lives in Tallahassee.

“This is way bigger than me,” he said. “This is a time of pride for everyone; my friends, my peers so I see this as a large community that I’m representing so I was happy to put a smile on everybody’s face.”

After graduating from Rickards, Gilliam went on to study law enforcement at Florida State University, graduating in 2000. Not long after he joined the St. Petersburg Police Department.

He started as a patrol officer. Eventually when the city started a Street Crimes Unit, he was one of the first officers. Before being promoted to sergeant in 2008, Gilliam was an undercover vice and narcotics detective. 

He became a sergeant in 2008 and two years later was a lieutenant on the way to being promoted to major in 2015. He held that position for three years before being named assistant chief.

The move to Tallahassee makes Gilliam the first Black TPD chief since 2007 when current Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil ended a 10-year run as chief. Gilliam and major Lonnie Scott were the only Blacks among the three finalists that included majors Lawrence Revell.

Gilliam also was the only out-of-town candidate out of the original field of 52 to make the final cut. 

“We relied upon the process,” Goad said. “We relied upon our experience and who to interview, the background and the total candidate.

“I’m very confident and I’m very excited about Antonio Gilliam being our next police chief.”

Having ties to Tallahassee was huge in the decision to hire Gilliam, said Goad. Additionally, he said Gilliam has a “combination of strengths that he brings to the table.”

That was especially obvious during a presentation that the three finalists made two weeks before Goad’s decision. 

“There was no one that I talked to that hasn’t been impressed with him, including me,” Goad said.

Gilliam’s responsibilities will include running a department with a $60 million budget. During the last round of the search process, he said he would like to see increased funding for the department and recruit more officers to increase TPD’s staff of 535.

The Florida Police Chief’s Association assisted in the search along with a cross-section of residents that made up a Community Partners Committee.

“It’s real exciting,” said Mayor John Dailey. “We have recruited a dynamic individual who is going to take over as the chief of police and we are going to start off 2020 fresh. We are very excited about having him coming on board.”

Dailey seemingly was impressed with Gilliam’s passion for increasing the size of the police department.

“It’s important that we keep recruiting and hiring talented people to be police officers,” Dailey said. “Also, we as a community benefit.”

Major Steve Outlaw, who became interim chief after DeLeo’s departure, said he will stay on to help the transition.

“It has to be a successful transition so the bottom line is whatever it takes to have a successful transition,” said Outlaw, who was planning to retire before getting the call to be interim chief.


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