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October retirement will close 40-year career for Longboat police chief

Pete Cumming, always fascinated by law enforcement, launched his career as a Sarasota County deputy.

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  • | 3:50 p.m. January 29, 2020
Pete Cumming has been with the Longboat Key Police Department since 2008.
Pete Cumming has been with the Longboat Key Police Department since 2008.
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Pete Cumming never had a chance. He was always supposed to dress in blue.

Longboat Key's Chief of Police since 2012, Cumming is retiring in October, at which time he will have completed 40 years in police work.  Aside from an even longer love for hockey, both as a fan and a player, he said he's always been fascinated by the law, its application and enforcement and solving problems. 

It runs in the family.

His grandfather was a guard in the iconic Sing Sing Correctional Facility, on the banks of the Hudson River in Ossining, N.Y., about 50 miles north of New York City. He said he remembers visiting with his mother from time to time, not far from his home in Westchester County, NY.

"He would work as a tower guard,'' Cumming said. "He'd lower down his bucket. Security, right? He'd lower down his bucket, and we'd put his lunch in it, and he pulled it back up again.

"Law enforcement and corrections and that kind of thing always was fascinating to me.''

Aside from a few odd jobs while studying for a degree in criminal justice, his career has been in law enforcement, starting as a uniformed road deputy with the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office in October 1980, rising to detective and then corporal, supervising other uniformed deputies.

From there, he served with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement until 2008 when he was recruited to join Longboat Key's Police Department as a captain under then-Chief Al Hogle, who Cumming, 61, described as a contemporary, friend and competitor "in a healthy, good way.'' He was made acting chief following Hogle's death in a motorcycle crash, then elevated to his position four months later by then-Town Manager Dave Bullock.

Cumming said he knew Hogle from his days with the sheriff's office, when Hogle served with the Sarasota Police Department. Cumming said he credits Hogle with polishing Longboat Key's department further into what it is today, "a professional and respected agency, and I hope that my time here, maybe even better.''

Town Manager Tom Harmer has the responsibility of hiring a replacement. He said he will soon begin the process of talking with members of the department and other town supervisors to get a handle on where the job search should lead.  "We have been fortunate to benefit from his service and leadership during the past 12 years here on Longboat Key,'' he wrote in a letter to town commissioners. 

"I have no regrets at all," Cumming said. "In fact, this would be considered a dream job. And having been here awhile, I can tell you that this community is a unique, remarkable community. And I mean that from the heart. I've met so many really good people here."

Cumming said over the course of the next eight months, he hopes the department's sergeants and officers, represented by the Florida Police Benevolent Association, can continue negotiating with the town for a three-year contract. 

The two sides reached an impasse last fall, with union members ultimately voting against the town's offer following an impasse-resolution hearing. There have been no new contract negotiations between the town and union since the officers' 8-6 vote to reject the contract offer. The impasse focused generally on retirement benefits and step wages for offices and sergeants.

"I care about them,'' Cumming said of his staff. "I want to get them what they need now.''

Cumming said if he hadn't stuck with law enforcement for four decades, he wouldn't have strayed too far from the world of criminal investigations and Miranda rights. 

"I spent an awful lot of time in my career making criminal cases and working with prosecutors and working even with and against defense attorneys,'' he said. "But building cases, you have to know the law. You have to know how to apply it and apply it creatively and effectively.  I thought about that and I started looking into it and then at some point, I just took a looked around and thought 'I'm well on my way here to doing something I'm still loving.' ''

When he's finished for the day, on his last day, Cumming said he'll be ready to retire, but not necessarily ready for retirement. He'll miss the people and the interactions, but maybe not so much the emails and phone calls and the things he has no control over. 

"I don't have any hobbies," he said, conceding giving up his spot as a hockey goalkeeper a few years ago. "I really have immersed myself into this job to the point where I know it's time for me to retire. I’m ready. So I'll find things."