Bradenton's first female police chief welcomes challenges

The City of Bradenton has a new leader in law enforcement. Tuesday, Mayor Wayne Poston announced Melanie Bevan is the new chief of police.

Bevan has worked for the St. Pete Police Department for 29 years, most recently as assistant chief.

Current Chief Michael Radzilowski, better known as Chief "Raz" finds the passing of the torch bittersweet.

After 13 years at the helm of the Bradenton Police Department, he's retiring.

"I'm not going to miss the department, per se," Radzilowski said to officers. "I am going to miss you as individuals."

Radzilowski saluted the crowd while officers clapped in a standing ovation. Then, it was Bevan's turn to speak.

"At this moment, I feel like the luckiest cop alive, to be able to stand before you as your new chief," Bevan said.

Bevan said her new role is one she's prepared for, for 29 years as an officer, whether she was patrolling the streets or riding around on a bike, buying drugs undercover.

"My passion has always been to really be right in the thick of things. That's where I thrive," Bevan said.

It's no secret, she's the department's first female Police Chief. She beat out more than 100 candidates for the job. But, gender is not something she cares to dwell on.

"I really stand before you as a police chief," Bevan said. "The significance of that is not lost on me but I don't think it defines me. I really like to think that I am the right person for the job because of what I bring and who I am. And, the fact that my gender might be something new in this role isn't going to have any bearing on it whatsoever."

Mayor Poston chimed in, saying, "Melanie didn't get this job because she is a female. She got this job because she is the best candidate."

Her new roll will not be void of challenges. She comes from a bigger agency with a larger budget, and, she'll be fighting the perception the city is a troubled, crime-ridden area. When a member of the audience asked Bevan how she'd combat those issues and build pubic trust, Chief Radzilowski spoke up.

"This is the perception I've been fighting here for 13 years," Radzilowski said, to thunderous applause. "The largest part of Bradenton is in Manatee County, it's not the City of Bradenton. We're not having all these murders, we are not having all these shootings in the City of Bradenton because we don't allow it."

Bevan, the mother of two 16-year-old boys, said she plans to take time to get to know the community - learn its strengths and weaknesses - before making any sweeping changes.

"My sons are very proud. They have been calling me 'El Jefe' for the past two days," Bevan said. "I know this area, I grew up right over the bridge. To be able to become a police chief so close to home, I feel like I'm at home."

Outgoing Chief Radzilowski said he plans to spend his time with family, caring for his mother and a new grand baby.

Bevan will be sworn in as chief Tuesday, February 16.