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MARCO ISLAND — A national search for the Marco Island police chief ended with a find right in the department’s back yard.
City Manager Steve Thompson announced Monday that acting Chief Thom Carr is now the permanent Marco Island police chief, effective immediately.
Carr, 62, has been acting chief of the Marco Island Police Department for four months and has served the department since its beginning about a decade ago.
Making chief wasn’t a sure thing, Carr said.
“I knew he was either going to fire me or make me chief,” Carr said of the meeting held Monday with Thompson.
He was delighted to find it was the latter of the two.
“I consider myself very fortunate to have someone who has that level of confidence in me,” Carr said.
He is the department’s third chief in its nine-year history and held the interim position since Roger Reinke left as chief to become Naples’ assistant city manager in April.
The chief’s larger, corner office has been vacant since Reinke left, but that soon will change.
Hanging on the wall in Carr’s current office are several police chief badges and memorabilia from when Carr served in the U.S. Army. The Army lieutenant served a total of 29 years, including active duty in Vietnam followed by reserve service.
Carr, a helicopter pilot, has a plaque on his wall about the difference between an airplane and a helicopter.
To paraphrase the main ideas of the anecdote by Harry Reasoner, planes want to fly and will fly if not interfered with too strongly. Helicopters don’t want to fly, but forces working in opposition keep it in the air.
“There is no such thing as a gliding helicopter,” Reasoner wrote.
When asked if this describes Carr’s personality or work, he smiled widely and shrugged.
Carr said he will be moving into his new office as soon as things settle down.
“I’ve just been too busy so far,” Carr said of his first eight hours as chief Monday.
Personnel issues are what’s keeping him busy, including filling several vacant positions, he said.
“As acting chief I didn’t want to create a lot of change. My management style may be different than someone else who could come in. That just wouldn’t be fair to the guys ... The pressure is off now. I can get to work,” he said.
One of the other main changes in the position of chief versus second-in-command will be an entrance to the political arena, attending many more meetings, Carr said.
The chief will receive a $103,000 annual salary and a benefits package still being ironed out.
Carr was selected out of about 250 applicants in the nationwide search.
“Even if he picked the guy already on the ground, it’s better than just handing it to the person,” Carr said.
Carr was among four finalists. The others were Nicholas Kaiser, a police chief from Troy, N.Y.; Edward Preston, deputy chief of New Bern, N.C.; and Ed Stenzel, a Marco Island police officer.
The final four were interviewed Aug. 1 by a nine-member panel, which included Thompson, seven city department heads and Cape Coral Police Chief Rob Petrovich.
While the interview panel aided in the interview process, the final selection was Thompson’s.
“They were great candidates ... Thom (Carr) did rise to the top ... He has already showed what he can do. He has done a very nice job with the city police department. That’s what made all the difference,” Thompson said.
In addition to building the department and leading it well, Carr shined above the rest in the interview process, Thompson added.
The national search for the police chief is not mandatory, but Thompson said it’s a process he chooses to go through for all department head vacancies within the city.
“Even if you have someone strong in the department, they have to compete for it. It’s not an automatic. That way they know they are the best person for the job. By going through the process they were not promoted because there was an empty seat. They were promoted for what they can do,” Thompson explained.
Carr said the process caused some “apprehension” in the department and the decision will now allow all the officers to gain more focus at work.
It also may allow for more promotions within the department. Two lieutenant positions are open, one corporal and with Carr’s promotion, his former position of captain will likely be refilled in the next several weeks, he said.
Carr said Lt. Dave Baer already has been taking on many of the captain’s responsibilities, including scheduling and payroll.
Baer is a likely candidate for second in command, he added.
The Marco Island Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports law enforcement officers and their families, was backing Carr for the position particularly because they hoped to see promotion from within, said Richard Shannahan, the foundation president.
“I think this is the best decision the island has ever made. (Carr) is an intelligent, dedicated police officer with great experience and knowledge of the island,” said Bernardo Bezos, vice president of the police foundation.
Carr was hired in 1999 to help build the Marco Island Police Department, which officially began serving the city in 2000.
He has 34 years’ experience in law enforcement, a bachelor’s of science in criminal justice administration from the University of Indiana and graduated from the FBI National Academy, an accomplishment which he said gives him pride.
“That’s worth more than a master’s degree for police officers. Only about 1 percent of the law enforcement population gets into it,” he said of the FBI National Academy.
Carr climbed up the law enforcement ladder from its first to its final rung.
He began as a uniformed officer and advanced through the ranks as sergeant and lieutenant with the Indianapolis Police Department.
His service prior to coming to Marco Island also included certified firefighter and special investigations in murder and arson.
Carr said he enjoys the difference between Marco Island and the dangers of law enforcement in Indianapolis.
The difference on Marco Island, he said, is that “not everyone has to be arrested. Sometimes you do better just talking to people.”
The Marco Island department, which has lowered the city’s crime rate by 50 percent since the department first began, has 32 sworn officers with a $3.9 million annual budget.
Carr advanced through the ranks of the Marco Island Police Department in part because of what Reinke and many supporters call a “laid-back attitude.”
His first title was that of patrol officer and his first responsibilities included staffing and supervision of the newly-formed department. Carr then advanced to lieutenant and second-in-command as captain, a title he held for seven years.
Making it to the position of top cop “spells success,” he said.
“For a police officer, becoming the chief is the pinnacle. It’s like being the president.” Carr exclaimed.