Lies: Chief Stephens, your public relations record in the past month has been amazing. Just how did you manage to capture the national spotlight?
Stephens: Well, it's pretty simple. You just gotta take what the good Lord gives you, and God willing, things will work out.
Lies: When you head about the Tyron Lewis shooting, what went through your mind?
Stephens: Honestly? At first, I thought, 'Hell, Darrell, that kid [the officer involved in the shooting] is gonna have a lot of reports to fill out.
Lies: But then you got a report about the small group of people harassing the officers who responded to the scene.
Stephens: Yeah, and I figured, you know, go for the gusto. So I ordered 200 units down there and asked for backup from the other law enforcement agencies in Pinellas and Hillsborough County.
Lies: The Tampa cops didn't show up that first night, though.
Stephens: Too many of 'em chasing those stolen cars. (He laughs) Hell, that's the irony. The Tampa police have killed quite a few totally innocent people in those well-publicized high-speed chases of stolen cars, and they just couldn't get the press. No one cared. (A big smile creeps across his face) I guess we learned the trick: firebomb a couple news trucks.
Lies: You got a lucky break when those vans got torched.
Stephens: I guess God just felt like being on my side that night. I mean, you know how smug and self-righteous those TV geeks can be. It was amazing, though. Channel 28 pre-empted its 10 o'clock line-up for live coverage.
Lies: They were up against ER, of course...
Stephens: Hell, I know that. Fox had the World Series, so that meant ABC (Channel 28) was just dumping warmed-over shit onto the air. Pictures of fire are always more interesting than another rerun of the Home Improvement Arbor Day special. But, man, when that poncy reporter in the helicopter kept saying 'I fear for my life up here, Diane'--or whatever her name is--I just laughed my ass off.
Lies: You were in many of the shots, right in the middle of the action. Did you fear for your life?
Stephens: You think I'd be anywhere where my ass was on the line? Jesus, boy, I'm not stupid! Those people weren't really in the mood to do anything. Oh, a couple kids were throwing rocks and all, but it just wasn't a big deal.
Lies: But you limited access to the area, nonetheless.
Stephens: That's an old trade secret. If you keep the news people out, they always assume it's worse than it really is. So all the guys did a hell of a job of over inflating the story.
Lies: One unfortunate error, though. The police had to admit to starting a few of the fires during the second disturbance, which amounted to more than half the monetary damage done that night.
Stephens: We started more than half the fires both nights! (He laughs heartily) That's another trade secret: If the people aren't in the mood to riot, make it look like they did anyway. Hell, we set that fire at our substation the first night, just so we could expand the overall area of the disturbance. Statistics like that are important, you know. As for the stuff that second night, the fires didn't burn enough to cover our tracks. We weren't able to keep the fire department out of the area, like we could the first night, and so they put out the blazes before we could eradicate the evidence.
Lies: Are you worried about getting tagged with the epithet 'racist cop'?
Stephens: In St. Petersburg? We've got almost 250,000 people here, and maybe 50,000 of them are black. Maybe. There were bigger crowds at the police union marching in support of our officers than were out on the streets. I mean, the important people, like the city council and the mayor, want us to be racist cops. They thought we should have dragged all the Uhurus off the street and thrown away the key. That lady who's running for mayor is the craziest of them all. I think she wants all the black people in jail.
Lies: You don't think that's a good idea?
Stephens: Too much trouble. And anyway, the way those neighborhoods down south are built, they're just like prisons, except the taxpayers don't have to pay for it.
Lies: How do you respond to the charges made by HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros that you, the council and the mayor are racist bastards?
Stephens: I absolutely loved it! No one noticed or said a goddamned thing! That commie rag, the Times, hasn't said word one. No one really cares what we think or what we do. And the made sure as hell isn't going to make an issue of it.
Lies: What is your advice to young, enterprising police chiefs?
Stephens: Don't go looking for trouble; that'll bite you in the ass eventually. Look at that fool Gates in L.A. Hell, just being police chief in L.A. is looking for trouble. Work in a place like St. Pete, where white folks know how to take care of business. I heard last week that Albany, Georgia, is looking for a new chief. Now, there's a town with class!
Lies: Thanks Chief Stephens. And congratulations for a job well done with the press.
Stephens: Aw, hell, I couldn't have done it without the lovely people of south St. Pete and those two boys. I just wish I'd pulled the trigger myself.