In a few weeks, City Manager Doug Thomas will make arguably the biggest hire of his career when he picks the city’s next police chief.
The tenure of Thomas’ last pick to fill the Lakeland’s top law enforcement position ended in controversy and scandal.
Former Police Chief Lisa Womack resigned in February after a little less than three years in the job. During her time, LPD went through the most sweeping sexual misconduct scandal in the its history, one that started before she arrived and included incidents while she was chief. Investigations into the scandal involved more than two dozen LPD and city workers.
While Womack was chief, the department also faced numerous other problems, including criminal cases fouled by search and reporting procedures, a grand jury investigation into problems with Womack and the department’s handling of public records, and a State Attorney’s Office investigation into hiring.
The list of candidates to succeed Womack has been narrowed to seven, and they will meet with city staff members and city commissioners at The Terrace Hotel downtown at 7 p.m. Sunday. The meeting isn’t open to the public because it is considered a social gathering. Barbara Petersen, president of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, said social gatherings aren’t subject to Florida’s open meetings requirements.
A meeting with the public will be at 6 p.m. Monday at The Lakeland Center.
On Tuesday, the candidates will tour the city, meet briefly with the police union then be interviewed by a 10-person committee.
That committee plans to narrow the list to three or four candidates, then Thomas is expected to make a selection before Christmas, said Tony Delgado, Lakeland deputy city manager and a member of the committee. Thomas is currently on medical leave.
The salary range for the new chief is $83,643 to $137,422. The police department has about 230 sworn officers.
Here are the seven under consideration, in alphabetical order:
Currently: Polk County Sheriff’s Office major
Baggett oversees the Sheriff’s Office divisions of Eagle Lake, Dundee and Frostproof, with a budget of $18 million and 288 employees.
He’s worked at the Sheriff’s Office since 1980 when he started as a detention deputy. He moved up the ranks from deputy, detective, sergeant, lieutenant and captain.
Baggett has a master’s degree in public administration and a master of science in human resources management. His bachelor’s degree is in criminology.
Eugenio ‘Gene’ Bernal
Currently: Eatonville Police Department police chief
Bernal worked at the Orlando Police Department for 31 years before retiring as deputy chief of police then became chief in Eatonville in 2013. There he oversees 13 officers.
Bernal began in Orlando as an officer and moved up the ranks through patrol supervisor, lieutenant and captain before becoming deputy chief. He also served as sergeant of the gang unit in Orlando in 1997 and 1998.
He has a master’s degree in criminal justice and a bachelor’s in general studies. He’s fluent in Spanish.
Bernal was one of six finalists in 2011 before Womack was hired.
Currently: Johnson and Wales University North Miami Campus director of campus safety and security
Before becoming director of campus safety, Bukata was chief of police for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Oakland Park, where he oversaw about 90 officers from 2006 to 2012. He started working at the Broward Sheriff’s Office in 1983 and spent time as a deputy, sergeant, executive lieutenant and assistant police chief before becoming chief in Oakland Park. Before then, he was an officer with the city of Fort Lauderdale. He has a master’s degree in organizational management and a bachelor’s degree in professional studies.
He was a finalist for New Smyrna’s top job in 2013.
Currently: Lakeland Police Department interim police chief
Giddens was chosen by Thomas to be LPD’s interim chief earlier this year. Giddens began his law enforcement career in 1984 as an auxiliary police officer with LPD. He was selected as a SWAT member in 1987 and served on LPD’s street crimes unit. In 1989, Giddens became a canine officer and was assigned to the street crimes unit and patrol division. Giddens became a captain of the Uniform Patrol Division in December 2009. He remained in that position until October 2011, when he was promoted to assistant police chief of the Neighborhood Services Bureau. Giddens has bachelor’s degree in criminology.
Currently: Dekalb County, Ga., Police Department assistant chief
Harris oversees the special operations division, which includes traffic enforcement, aerial support, the DUI task force unit, the bomb squad, the SWAT team and building security. Harris has more than 27 years experience at an agency with 950 officers. He’s a brigadier general with 32 years of service in the U.S. Army National Guard. Harris was a colonel in Baghdad during the surge in 2007 and 2008, responsible for 20,000 coalition forces and a $79 million budget, according to his resume.
He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and master’s degrees in military history and strategic studies.
Currently: Topeka, Kan., Police Department deputy chief
Kirk was interim Topeka chief from August through October of this year. The department has 302 sworn officers with a $38 million budget.
He has been deputy chief at the department since 2012. He oversees field and special operations and criminal investigations. He started at the department as an officer in 1987. He moved up the ranks through the years through sergeant, lieutenant, major then deputy chief. Kirk has a bachelor’s degree in human resources management and a master’s in science.
Currently: Tulsa, Okla., Police Department deputy chief
McCrory oversees the operations bureau in the department’s three patrol divisions and special operations. At the police department since 1982, he has been an officer, corporal, sergeant, captain and major. He was previously deputy chief of the investigations and administrations bureau and oversaw a $50 million budget. McCrory’s resume says he initiated talks between unions and the police department to reach a contract.
McCrory has a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice.