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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 15, 2010 7 years ago

Abbott defends himself to police advisory panel

by: Robin Roy City Editor

After being publicly criticized for weeks without being given a chance to defend himself, Police Chief Peter Abbott addressed the Police Advisory Panel Monday night.

Abbott spoke for an uninterrupted 20 minutes, speaking about morale in the police department and officers’ involvement in minority communities. Abbott ran down a list of his actions and achievements, at times sounding like he was on a job interview.

On the subject of morale, something the Police Advisory Panel has questioned often, Abbott said he could not control the economy that forced layoffs and could cut pensions. But he said an agreement was just reached with the police union on career advancement.

Other things he said positively affect morale are the annual Medal Day, in which officers are recognized for heroic acts; posting on a bulletin board letters of praise that the public writes; his daily interaction with officers; being awarded a stimulus grant that saved 10 jobs in the department; and the creation of a system to train officers for new jobs.

“Lack of movement was the top concern (among officers), so we created posts to diversify training,” he said.

The chief has also been criticized for his officers’ handling of minorities.

“I’m very proud of the relationships I have made in Newtown,” said Abbott.

He listed actions both he and his officers have taken in the North Sarasota community, including financing youth programs through the law-enforcement trust fund, making Fredd Atkins Park safer through the use of surveillance cameras, holding a monthly staff meeting in that park, meeting regularly with Booker High School student groups, sitting on the board of the Newtown Economic Development Board and daily walking beats, in which Abbott occasionally takes part.

“It’s one of the best days for me,” he said.

Several Police Advisory Panel members have been critical of Abbott. They have cited officer surveys conducted in 2007 and 2008 that showed low morale was a result of Abbott disciplining his favorite officers less severely than others and a lack of communication about department policies.

Abbott said policies are always communicated electronically to all officers and then reinforced by supervisors. And he vehemently denied the claims of favoritism and said that all discipline was handed out evenly.

“The officers have worked very hard, and I want to say I appreciate them,” said Abbott. “Most people in the city appreciate them. Can we do it better? Yes. Are we willing to do it better? Yes.”

Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].

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