New Police Chief Appointed by Mayor Hayward
After twenty-seven years of working with many people in Law Enforcement, Assistant Chief Tommi Lyter was appointed Chief by Mayor Ashton Hayward. “It’s very humbling,” said Chief Lyter. “This job is extremely dangerous and extremely difficult on a good day. To spend my entire professional career working with men and women who answer the call is enjoyable. But to get into a position of leadership and represent the Police department is very humbling.”
Chief Lyter was hired in 1990. He moved up the ranks working in various units and divisions in the department, getting promoted to Lieutenant, then Captain and then Assistant Chief. “I worked under Chief Alexander most of my career,” he stated. “I was a Lieutenant under him, then as Captain and as Assistant Chief, I’m excited. That talks about that humbling experience for me; to follow in those footsteps; Chief Alexander, Chip Simmons, Mathis and all before me. I have so much respect for them and I’m getting a taste of just what it is they have to do.”
Chief Lyter went on to say how important it is for him to succeed. “I’ve identified four priorities. The first one is staffing levels. We’ve had forty-eight people dropped in just under five years. It was a result of the change to the pension and a change to the drop five years ago. Everyone that was Drop eligible, it was beneficial for them to drop at that time. The result of that is this huge influx. We generally work with approximately two to three people a year to forty-eight in less than five years. We are past that now. We have two people left in the drop that will drop this summer and then in the next three years I believe we have four people dropping. So we are back to where we were. It’s much easier to manage.”
“All of our staffing levels are down. Every time we hire a group of people, they are now a net gain for us.” He said. The department currently has 150 police officers. “We’ve been able to fill some of the vacancies but we are twenty five people short. There are six people coming out of the training program and then nine will be promoted. This summer there is a group scheduled to come in. There is a plan in place to be fully staffed by the end of this year or the first part of next year.” When asked what’s next he responded “Community service is huge. In my opinion, that was Chief Alexander’s flag ship accomplishment-the outreach he had in the community. I’m going to make sure we build on that as much as possible. And, unfortunately, people are getting the perception of Law Enforcement from the news. So it is important for us as an agency to capitalize on every single action we have with the public. Most people won’t have interaction with the Police department unless they are a victim of a crime, traffic stop or something, I want to change that. We have a plan in place that will start soon that will have our Officers knock on doors city wide to talk with residents and get a feel of what our residents want from their Police department. I learned early in my career to talk less and listen more.”
Chief Lyter’s third priority is traffic. “Our number one complaint is speeding and running stop signs. It’s our biggest threat to city and public safety. We have roughly 200 crashes a month and it’s a pretty high percentage that most results in injuries. More injuries are caused by traffic crashes than any other crime in the city not to mention property damage often results in accidents. You will see a lot more officers out with radar, at traffic lights, stop signs; careless driving and tickets will be written for texting while driving. Anything that is likely to cause a traffic crash.
The fourth priority is violent crime. “We want to make sure we keep this as one of our priorities. We have to respond to drive-by shootings, robberies, and hybrid gang violence and drug dealings. If we attack that in a meaningful focused way fairly, I think we will see our homicides go down. Last year we suffered ten. We are going into the summer but I want to make sure that we attack the causes. I think drugs/narcotics is a house on fire. It is critical. We are at a critical point that we talk about the heroin and opium. It is an epidemic that is hitting the United States. It’s coming to Pensacola if not already here. There are more overdoes and it seems like they are violent. In the 80’s and 90’s we saw a huge spike in the drugs, cocaine/crack and we got that under control and that’s down. We are seeing a lot of violent crime surrounding the heroin. That will be one of our targets under our crime initiative.
Chief Lyter made it clear that the community in totality was his interest. “We want the community to know that if they have something they want to report, they can do it anonymously. “We have business cards that we are going to give to the community explaining how to report a crime anonymously. If you are afraid to walk in your neighborhood, it’s my job to make you safe. This is how you reach out. It’s no way for us to track it back. We want to see all of our neighborhoods safe.” Chief Lyter and his command will be visiting neighborhoods getting acquainted with what we need as a community. Have your questions and a vision of what you want for your community when they knock on your door.