St. Petersburg, Florida -- The top cop in St. Petersburg is hanging up his uniform for good in January. Chief of Police, Charles "Chuck" Harmon, announced his plans to retire from the St. Petersburg Police Department Wednesday afternoon.
Mayor Bill Foster says he knew Chief Harmon had been thinking about retiring but says it still took him by surprise when Harmon told him earlier in the day he was going to make the announcement.
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Foster says Harmon has done a great job and deserves the opportunity to focus on his family.
"He always assured me that he would serve one term...he was in the DROP program."
That's Florida's popular Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) which allows veteran public employees to retire while continuing to work and receive a salary for up to five years.
Chief Harmon joined the force in the 1980's and worked as a patrol officer before moving up the ranks being promoted to Sergeant, Lieutenant, Major and Assistant Chief. In 2001 he was appointed Chief of Police.
Harmon says he's seen some big changes in the way officers do their jobs thanks to technology. But now at the age of 53 he wants to focus less on a career and more on his family. Harmon is married with two daughters and a son. One of his daughters is moving back home to pursue her master's degree at the University of South Florida - St. Petersburg campus.
Harmon says it's a decision he's been thinking of for some time but he says last night he and his wife Lori agreed it's time.
He says, "Last night my wife and I were having a discussion. She's getting ready to get on a plane tomorrow to go to a family event and she pointed out that I was the only one from the family not attending again. And so it's one of those questions she kind of looked at me with those wide eyes 'why can't you go?' and it's because of the job."
It's a job he admits has had it's challenges like two years ago when two St. Petersburg Police Officers, Sgt. Tom Baitinger and Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz were shot and killed in the line of duty. Then barely a month later another tragedy when Officer David Crawford was shot and killed while trying to stop a teen to question him about a burglary.
Mayor Foster says, "That still weighs very heavily on his heart and you don't get over that. You never get over that."
Harmon says, "It's 31 years of service - being on call attached to a phone and that responsibility - and 13 years prior to that on shift work. We have some good people standing behind me that I think can do a fantastic job and it's time to give somebody else an opportunity."
The chief says this is a good time because crime is low and the police department he says has a good relationship with City Hall.
Mayor Foster says they're going to conduct a national search for Harmon's replacement. He says there are already two internal candidates.
Foster is running for re-election and some question the timing of Chief Harmon's retirement. The mayor's challenger, Rick Kriseman, says, "Today marks yet another departure of a senior level member of Mr. Foster's administration. It's time for stronger leadership in City Hall. I'm asking Mr. Foster to keep me informed about any decisions related to this period of transition."
Kriseman adds, "I believe no final decision on the next chief should be made until after the November election. The next mayor should select the next police chief."
Foster called Kriseman's comments, "Interesting." He says there's a difference between politics and governing and he should leave the governing to him.
Harmon says he's looking forward to some fishing and playing some golf when he retires. His last day is Jan. 6, 2014.
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St. Pete Police Department