New Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer officially took office April 10 amid public outcry against the decision to hire him over former interim Chief Dale Stephenson. Islander Photo: Mark Young
Citizens expressed outrage over Mayor Carmel Monti’s March 28 announcement he was recommending the city hire Longboat Key Police Capt. Bill Tokajer over Holmes Beach Police Department’s 26-year veteran Dale Stephenson.
Tokajer, who officially started work April 10, said he understands the community’s apprehension, but called on people to give him a fair chance.
“I believe they will have the same respect and love the city of Bradenton did after 26 years,” said Tokajer. “I do understand they would have liked their internal candidate, but it’s not my decision.”
Tokajer said he’s honored to be given this opportunity “and once community members have an opportunity to sit down with me, they will be pleased with the choice our mayor made.”
Tokajer began his law enforcement career as a U.S. Army policeman, at which time he met his wife of 32 years and raised two daughters. He worked for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office for two years before beginning his 26-year career with the Bradenton Police Department.
He retired as deputy chief. Tokajer said he loved law enforcement too much to stay out, so in 2011 he took the job as captain on Longboat key, where he remained until being selected as the Holmes Beach police chief.
“I applied for the position when I received a call saying it was open,” said Tokajer. “I’ve always prepared myself through education and training to be chief. It’s always been a goal of mine.”
Tokajer said he knows both Stephenson and former Police Chief Jay Romine.
“This department has had some good leadership,” he said. “I know I have some big shoes to fill.”
Tokajer received the Bradenton police department’s Purple Heart in 1990 when he was shot in the line of duty during a drug raid, and was awarded the Bradenton Police Department’s highest honor — the medal of valor — in 1989 for disarming a suspect while saving the life of a fellow officer.
He has spent 20 years on the Manatee Children’s Services board of directors, 19 of which he has been president.
He has several awards and believes strongly in remaining active in the community he serves.
“I would like the people to judge me for what they see of me,” said Tokajer. “What they will see is someone very community oriented. I want to partner with the community to make sure it’s the safest place in Manatee County. We have a beautiful little community.”
Tokajer acknowledged reports of his disciplinary issues, saying they were minor and the last one was more than 20 years ago.
“Don’t judge me from my past,” he said. “I’ve made mistakes, but I would ask anyone to look at the past 20 years of their lives and ask themselves if there is something they did that they would do different. I’ve done that and try to be a better man and be a better coach to young officers so they don’t make those same mistakes.”
Tokajer’s immediate concern as the city’s new top cop is to get the rumor mill under control. He said he is aware of the rumors that drastic changes are coming and possible firings are around the corner.
“Before I make any changes, I need to do a needs assessment to see what the agency does and what they need before I make a premature judgment of the agency’s structure,” he said. “Once I do that, and meet with the officers and see what they need, then I will make the changes necessary to make sure we are making the community safe.”
Tokajer said he strongly believes in transparency and accountability, but also believes that each officer should have what they need to succeed.
“We expect them to be professionals,” he said. “But to be sure they are professionals, we need to make sure they have the training and education they need. You can’t hold someone to a standard if you aren’t going to give them an opportunity to meet that standard.”
Tokajer said the community should know that he is accessible.
“I’m not someone who continuously sits behind a desk,” he said. “I lead from being out on the road and being part of everything.”
Tokajer said he believes it’s part of his job to be a presence in the community and he intends to do that.
He was already on the street making contacts and introducing himself by going door to door in the business center last week.
He told The Islander staff that rumors are untrue that he will order patrol officers to strictly enforce laws and write tickets for all infractions.
“It isn’t true,” he said. “I believe in achieving compliance,” he said.
“All I ask is for the community to give me a chance to prove myself to them,” he said. “They will not be disappointed. They will see I am here for the betterment of this community and to ensure this is the safest town in the county.”
Tokajer said people have an open invitation to visit with him or call him.
“I want to give everyone a chance to get to know me and to partner with me in this adventure,” he said.