At the halfway point of its six-month lifespan, the City Commission-appointed Police Advisory Panel presented a progress report to city commissioners.
Panel Chairwoman Susan Chapman made one thing clear: The Sarasota Police Department does not have significant number of problem officers.
“We don’t have a rogue police department,” she said. “We have some gaps in procedure.”
Chapman did lay out what she said was a serious morale problem that was detailed in a 2007 Police Benevolent Association report.
“We haven’t found yet if the gaps (in procedure) are related to morale,” she said.
One of the gaps that Chapman discussed was what she called the disparity of treatment some police officers display toward minorities.
The Police Advisory Panel was created in the wake of the June 26 incident in which an officer kicked a handcuffed Hispanic man who was in police custody.
“We need to be able to talk about race and disparate treatment without the fear of retaliation,” she said.
The panel plans to conduct two focus groups, one in the Hispanic community and one in the black community, to gauge the perception of disparate treatment.
Chapman cited a study that showed 50% of the complaints are generated by just 2% of officers.
Two commissioners used those figures to caution the panel against smearing the vast majority of Sarasota officers.
“There should be no slandering,” said Commissioner Suzanne Atwell. “The panel should be respectful of how the majority of the police panel (is good).”
“If only 2% to 3% are seen in this negative light, this would suggest we may have a problem, but not the big problem we thought,” said Commissioner Terry Turner. “Ninety-eight percent of officers who are doing a heroic job are being tarred by this. We need this to end quickly.”
Commissioner Fredd Atkins said it may be a small percentage of officers who are causing problems, “but I think it’s 60% to 70% (of officers) who cover it up. Police officers (have gotten) away with everything but murder forever.”
Atkins said he wants the panel to ensure that when a citizen complains about police mistreatment that the report sees the light of day.
“For every one complaint that got through, 10 never made it through the front door,” he said.
Chapman said with just three months to go, the panel will not be able to accomplish all that it wanted to, but she expects it will deliver to the commission “significant remedial steps” for the department to take.
Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner praised the panel, saying its work “far exceeds what we would have gotten from a paid consultant.”
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