OUR VIEW: Police panel runs amok

 

OUR VIEW: Police panel runs amok

 

Date: February 11, 2010
by: The Observer Staff

 
 

Sometimes criminal-court judges sentence first-time, small-time crime violators to community service. If a judge really wants these types of violators to pay their public due, we’d suggest he sentence them to sitting through the meetings of the Sarasota Police Advisory Panel.

Talk about punishment — cruel and unusual, to be sure.

This past Monday was yet another case in point.

Oh my, where to begin?

Start with the fact — yes, fact — that halfway through the committee’s term, its chairwoman, Susan Chapman, and many of its members haven’t a clue what the panel’s specific task and mission are (i.e., evaluate the Sarasota Police Department’s policies and procedures).

And even if they know that, they obviously don’t know how to go about it.

Rather than focus on examining those areas with a goal of recommending improvements to the City Commission, Chapman apparently is possessed with rehashing history. She allowed the committee to spend at least an hour revisiting details of the June incidents that precipitated the formation of the panel to begin with. Chapman even recounted at great length a timeline of the entire affair.

To what end? All of that was adjudicated three months ago!

Perhaps it’s because Chapman appears to have a grudge against Chief Peter Abbott. At one point Monday night, Chapman inferred that Abbott has not shown he is taking seriously what transpired last summer. When Abbott acknowledged “mistakes were made,” Chapman, like a school marm, stopped him and said: “Did you use the passive voice? Did you say ‘mistakes were made’ or ‘I made a mistake’?”

Chided, Abbott said, “I said, ‘I made a mistake.’”

But what does that have to do with the mission of the advisory panel? Nothing.

More bizarreness: When panel member Barbara Langston said she thought Sgt. Kenneth Castro should be investigated for his involvement in the June incidents, Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown reminded her he already had been investigated and disciplined.

Langston said she didn’t know that. (It was detailed in the packets of information given to all of the panel members when they began their term.)

After a woman relayed to the panel an incident involving her teen grandson in Newtown (she said he had been beaten while in custody), Langston wanted the panel to investigate the incident. When told such youth incarcerations fall under the jurisdiction of Sarasota County or the state of Florida, Langston still wanted the city police panel to investigate.

Panel member Willie Shaw relayed an experience he had recently when his niece’s car broke down on Tamiami Trail. He said a Sarasota police officer he encountered at the scene was rude to him. But when Shaw dealt with a sergeant at the police department, he said the sergeant was cordial.

“There are still two different polices (in Sarasota),” Shaw said. Referring to his encounter with the allegedly rude officer, Shaw said: “If I was another color, I think I would have been noticed.”

This and a three-minute rant about alleged police mistreatment from a resident known for such tirades prompted some panel members to suggest they need to make field trips into Newtown and to a church with a Hispanic congregation to hear residents’ experiences with the Sarasota police.

When panel member Dan Bailey suggested such sessions could turn into unproductive gripe sessions that would dredge up irrelevant stories from 20 years ago, that didn’t seem to matter. Panel member Wayne Genthner said he thought a city trust fund should pay for music and food as a way to encourage residents to show up for such meetings.

Although the panel didn’t decide whether to hold the meetings, the idea will be discussed at its next meeting.

Chapman is expected to report on the panel’s progress Feb. 16. If city commissioners don’t see what a farce the panel has become, they should be sentenced to community service — forced to sit through the fiasco they created. It was all so predictable.

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