Sid Klein

Sid Klein, Clearwater’s police chief for 29 years, died on March 18 at 78. He served during the department’s most transitive years.

CLEARWATER — Sid Klein, the Clearwater police chief who prepared his department for civilian unrest during the Y2K crisis and was one of the first to institute the philosophy of community policing in the nation, died Thursday, March 19. He was 78.

Klein, who served from 1981 to 2010, also modernized the department’s administrative and communications systems as the world switched from analog to digital equipment.

Most importantly, Klein instilled respect and admiration among his troops, Clearwater’s present police chief told the Beacon. Chief Dan Slaughter started with the department in 1992.

“He was always a person of great professionalism, very calm with a mild demeanor,” Slaughter said. “At the officer level, you didn’t interact with him that much because he was something of a deity in law enforcement. You respected him to the point that you stayed clear of him.”’

City Manager Bill Horne, who came on while Klein was chief, remembered Klein for his presence.

“He was a take-charge personality, highly competent in policing,” Horne said. “He had tremendous amount of respect from most residents in the community. He was our best department director during his tenure. At one point, he was the most well-liked public official in Florida.”

He is being remembered especially as his former department adjusts to the realities of the coronavirus spread.

In the months before Jan. 1, 2000 — Y2K for short — the nation’s municipalities prepared for widespread outages of electricity, water, and other infrastructure stemming from failed computer code. Klein guided Clearwater’s police department’s planning and response to possible faulty computer systems, collapsed telephone systems, malfunctioning ATMs, gas station pumps, up to and including widespread civil unrest and rioting.

Thankfully, probably because Klein and his department installed Y2K patches and updated other computer code where they could, none of those malfunctions materialized.

“At Y2K, we were worried that every software product was going to crash and we were worried about the whole country going dark,” Slaughter said. “We were prepared for worldwide chaos. Chief Klein oversaw all of that.”

Community policing is not just a public relations term. It was a wholesale adjustment in how police approached their relationship with the community at large. It requires police officers to familiarize themselves with individuals, neighborhoods, and businesses on their beat. It lets police recognize emerging threats to those locations and residents and fix problems before they grow out of control.

Klein was an early adopter of the practice, which nearly every present-day department deploys.

Not to say community response was always smooth for Klein, Horne said.

“He led the effort in addressing drug trafficking in one of our neighborhoods,” Horne said,

“and some of the people didn’t like that. Crowds were on the street, there was some unrest, and he was cool as a cucumber. He kept to his task because he was tuned in to what the residents wanted.”

Said Slaughter, “Chief Klein was a person who had really good insight for emerging issues and got in front of them very quickly and developed partnerships with the community to adjust a lot of problems. He mentored a lot of police officers who later became leaders. Your two largest municipal law enforcement forces in Pinellas County — Clearwater and St. Pete — are run by two people he mentored.”

Slaughter was referring to himself, of course, and St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway, who began his career in 1985 under Klein and eventually became Clearwater police chief.

Klein was born in New York City but moved to Miami as a youngster when his family relocated. He entered the U.S. Navy at the age of 17. After the Navy, he began his law enforcement career with the Miami-Dade Sheriff's Office. He later worked for the police department in Lakewood, Colorado, from 1970 to 1980.

He was the first police chief not hired from inside the Clearwater department, according to retired deputy police chief Dewey Williams.

“He was an unknown, and there was a lot of trepidation in the department,” Williams told the Beacon in 2010. “Nobody knew the guy, nor did they know what we were facing for the future. And of course, as it turns out in hindsight, he was a great choice and led the agency through some very difficult times.”

Klein had advice for Holloway, who succeeded him. He told Holloway to always remember the four P’s: The police, the press, the politicians and the public.

“I told him that being a chief of police is like being a trapeze artist in a circus,” Klein said at the time. “You’re always on the high wire, and you have to keep those four P’s in balance or you’re going to fall off the wire. ... I also told him, and he’s done this, and that is to learn how to be a good politician, but stay out of politics. And always have your political claws sharpened in the event that you have to use them to protect yourself.”