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Sarasota Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009 8 years ago

10 to Contend: Peter Abbott

by: Robin Roy City Editor

Buttoning his shirt and straightening his tie every day carries a special meaning for Sarasota Police Chief Peter Abbott.

“I’ve been to well over 100 funerals for officers killed in the line of duty,” he said. “To know you’re going to carry on the legacy for them, that’s why I polish my brass and shine my shoes every day.”

Because the police uniform means so much to Abbott, he said it was devastating to have to remove it while he was on administrative leave earlier this year.

“Easily the worst part of my career,” he says softly.

Abbott was suspended with pay from July to November during an internal-affairs probe into the mishandled investigation of the videotaped kicking of a handcuffed arrestee.

He acknowledged he erred in supporting a payment to the suspect and co-mingling that payment with his own investigation into the incident.

Abbott was reinstated to his post in November. City Manager Bob Bartolotta did not keep him in an agonizing suspense of the decision.

“He said right away, ‘You’re coming back,’” said Abbott. “I felt a tremendous sense of relief, of gratitude. I said, ‘Thank you for taking me back.’”

In the coming year, Abbott realizes that there is a lot of repair work he needs to do to regain the trust of the entire community.

He said the department makes small steps forward each time an officer helps someone.

“But we went 100 steps back in one day,” said Abbott. “We have a lot of ground to make up and personal relationships to repair.”

He plans to reiterate as many times as he can that one incident does not represent what his officers do every day.

“The officers are hurt,” he said. “We have people with 25, 30 years of service, and they’re all being painted with a broad brush.”

One thing Abbott believes will help morale is the new police headquarters, which is scheduled to open in May.

“The employees deserve a nice and healthy place to work,” he said.

It’s going to be a vast improvement from the current station, which was built in the ’50s — today’s technology is not supported there.

“We’re holding it together with baling wire and duct tape,” he joked.

The new station is laid out for operational efficiencies, so the people who work together the most are located closer together.

It will also have its own community room, so instead of always having to go to the community for meetings, the communities can come to them. Abbott thinks having residents coming to the new headquarters will make them more comfortable with the police and will more quickly gain their trust.

The new year will bring both challenges and rewards that the chief is eager to meet.

Said Abbott: “My mission is to lead the great officers and civilians of this department, develop new relationships in the community and re-establish old ones.”

Contact Robin Roy at [email protected]

Age: 54
Hometown: Long Island, N.Y.
In Sarasota since: 2002
Favorite part of Sarasota: Wherever I am
Hobby: Golf, engaging with people
Interesting fact: Was on site when the second plane hit the World Trade Center
Passion: Police work. “It’s been my life,” said Abbott.

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