BRADENTON -- Many police officers in the city of St. Petersburg are saying it's the end of an era. They are mourning the loss of one of their finest, as she prepares to take the helm the Bradenton Police Department next month.
The city of Bradenton formally announced last week that Melanie Bevan will be its next police chief, with Chief Michael Radzilowski set to retire next month.
She will be sworn in Feb. 16.
"Bradenton took one of our best," said Maj. Paul McWade said, the Crimes Against Persons commander in St. Petersburg and one of Bevan's best friends.
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Many who work in the St. Petersburg Police Department say Bevan, 49, makes you feel like you are working with her, not for her, whether she is standing in the streets alongside officers or doing her own photocopying in the office.
"She wouldn't ask anything of the officers that she wouldn't do herself,"
McWade said. "She wants to be there on the street in uniform standing alongside the officers when other supervisors would be in the background."
Bevan looks forward to building on the legacy left by Radzilowski, including continuing the community policing philosophy he first introduced after taking over more than 13 years ago, adding to it community-infused data-driven policing.
Bevan said she hopes to cultivate an environment that will foster new ideas, motivate employees to look forward to coming to work, and grow a sense of urgency to make the department better than it already is.
"I believe it falls to the leader to create the condition for people to realize their own potential," Bevan said.
No one ever questioned Bevan's rise through the ranks of the St. Petersburg Police Department, where she went to work in 1986. She was promoted to sergeant in 1995, lieutenant in 1999, major in 2005 and assistant police chief in charge of the administrative bureau in December 2012.
She also served in many specialty units, including as a SWAT team member, vice and narcotics detective, canine unit commander, intelligence unit commander, a field training officer and supervisor and street crime unit commander.
When the Republican National Convention was held in Tampa in 2012, Bevan was tasked with overseeing all the security for the many events that were held in St. Petersburg. She represented the city on the RNC executive steering committee as well.
When she was just two years on the job, Bevan was involved in a shooting and handled herself well. So she was moved to narcotics at an unusually young age, she said.
"Crack cocaine in the '90s was still fairly new in St. Petersburg," Bevan said.
So she would ride around town on a bike, sporting a tank top with a sweatshirt off the shoulders and buying crack undercover. Under the tank, of course, she was wired.
She laughed as she recalled one time she was in the middle of buying five rocks of cocaine.
"It started drizzling and I am in the middle of a pretty big deal," Bevan said.
The rain caused her wire to short out and it began burning her skin.
"But you really can't do much," she said, recalling how she closed the deal.
Years later, she has a very tiny scar, but a memory that makes her laugh proudly.
In 2014, Bevan was among the finalists for the top cop position in St. Petersburg. She was a favorite for the position among many in the department.
Just-elected Mayor Rick Kriseman instead chose Tony Holloway for the job.
Former St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said he would have chosen differently.
"Had things gone differently in my reelection, she would have without a doubt led the St. Petersburg Police Department," Foster said. "That's how much I thought she was qualified. ... So St. Pete's loss is Bradenton's gain."
Nonetheless, there were no hard feelings between Bevan and Holloway, who wished her well.
"Chief Bevan is a remarkably talented individual whose quality of work during her long career here has always reflected high professional standards. She is highly motivated and driven by an amazing passion to succeed," Holloway said in a statement. "Chief Bevan will do the citizens of Bradenton proud; just as she has done here in St. Petersburg over the last 29 years. I wish her the best on her new position."
Those close to her know Bevan as a fantastic mother of two 16-year-old boys she adopted with her then-partner, former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor. The two continue to co-parent.
Family is very important to her, and she has happily been in a nine-year relationship with her current partner.
Her boys often dictate her hobbies, being a spectator for the many sports they play. But one hobby they all enjoy together, her father taught her.
"We like to fish, we don't really catch but we sure try," she said, laughing.
But she doesn't stop there.
"I lay out traps and catch my own stone crabs," she added, "and then I cook them and eat them."
Committed to staying healthy, Bevan also grows and harvests her own wheatgrass, so she can drink the shots.
"It's kind of cool," as she explained how easy she found it.
Her boys recently started driving, Bevan said, and she recalls crying when they drove away for the first time. Her motherly instinct and her sense of humor also come through when she mentions her sons becoming new drivers in her resume, asking you to pray for her.
Bevan's teen boys are in their junior year of high school, which is why she and Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston have agreed she will relocate to the Bradenton area, but that she can continue living in Tampa for now so that her boys can graduate from their same high school.
"I live in Carrollwood and I chose that because of the school district," Bevan said. "Like most parents when their kids go off to college, I plan on downsizing."
She looks forward to the move to Bradenton, she said, but she doesn't want residents to worry about her commuting in the interim months.
"They will see me more there than some of their neighbors," Bevan said. "I am a very dedicated manager."
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.