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Longboat Key Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022 4 months ago

Longboat Key police to begin accreditation process in early 2022

The Barancik Foundation provided the town a grant worth $274,850 to help the Longboat Key Police Department get accredited.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The Longboat Key Police Department is preparing for the state’s multiyear accreditation process, inspired by a blueprint left by a previous chief and managed by the chief who replaced her. 

“It’s not a participation award that you just do it, and then you get an award,'' interim Police Chief George Turner said. "You have to earn it.”

Accreditation establishes formal standards to increase capabilities, fight crime and reduce liability risks. The process is conducted by the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation, which is a division of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The Longboat Key Police Department is unaccredited.

George Turner has served as Longboat Key's interim police chief since late April 2021.

“From when I got here to now, we have completely reissued all of our policies and procedures,” Turner said.

There are 264 standards that make up the CFA’s accreditation process, of which 156 are mandatory. Departments must comply with at least 80% of the remaining 108 standards to pass.

Turner was hired in late April 2021 following Chief Kelli Smith’s departure after six months. He said he anticipates the Longboat Key Police Department starting its accreditation process early in 2022.

“It kind of does a little bit depend on our ability to hire an accreditation manager and or an accreditation firm,” Turner said.

Turner said he prefers finding local accreditation help, but that's not easy considering the job is part-time.

“The ideal thing would have been to find someone, but I said right from the beginning, that’s a long shot (of) finding someone that will come out here and do that on a part-time basis that’s qualified,” Turner said.

Town Manager Tom Harmer explained what the town is looking for in an accreditation manager or a firm.

“I think the most important one is experience with the Florida accreditation process for law enforcement,” Harmer said.

Turner said the police department has addressed many of the concerns raised in Smith’s April 23, 2021, review and assessment of the Longboat Key Police Department. In late April 2021, Smith   resigned from her role with the town to take the police chief role at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.

Smith declined a request for an interview.  “With good policy comes better practice / better practice becomes high-level police services, accountability and the albeit to withstand scrutiny,” Smith wrote.

Among her notes:

  • Smith’s report suggested the town spend an initial $115,770 to update the police department’s policies, training, equipment and technology, some of which was approaching the end of its service life. It would then cost nearly $51,000 each subsequent year to maintain
  •  Smith wrote that the police department began using specialized Power DMS software on March 1, 2021, for cloud-based storage for policies, directives and training applications to replace a system based on Microsoft Word documents maintained on a computer drive. "There is no manageable way to document policy revisions and staff acknowledgment of changes,” she wrote.  Harmer said he didn’t know how long the police department had used its previous software before implementing Power DMS. “I think Power DMS is a software that is aligned with the accreditation process in law enforcement,” Harmer said. “It’s also used by a number of fire departments for their accreditation process as a structured way to manage policies, which gives you some additional abilities to track, policy development, policy discretion and policy-related training (and) documentation.”
  • Smith’s report outlined the need to replace outdated equipment such car cameras and tasers.

Turner said the town has already taken many of the suggestions in Smith’s report. He also discussed how the Barancik Foundation’s $274,850 grant donation over a three-year period will help the police department increase its technology to move toward accreditation. 

Margery and Charles Barancik died in a December 2019 crash involving a Longboat Key police SUV responding to a fire-alarm call on the south end of the island.

An investigation found Officer Jeffery Vogt's violated police department rules on speed 21 times between September 2019 and Dec. 18, 2019, the day the crash took place. The police SUV was going 84 mph just before the deadly crash, which was in violation of town police policies. He also was found to have turned off his police vehicle's video and speed recording equipment on other occasions.

The town is expected to provide a yearly update on how the grant money is used.

“I know that Chuck and Margery would be very pleased that we’re helping their community and keep their friends and fellow community members safer,” said Barancik Foundation President and CEO Teri Hansen.

After the fatal crash, the Barancik Foundation contracted the Center for Public Safety Management to evaluate the police driving training of the Longboat Key Police Department, North Port Police Department, Sarasota Police Department, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and the Venice Police Department.

Margery and Charles Barancik died after a December 2019 traffic crash involving a Longboat Key police SUV. In their honor, the Barancik Foundation is donating a grant valued at $274,850 to the town. File photo

Turner said the town’s police officers have since undergone an emergency vehicle operator course at the North Port Police Department. He also explained how the Longboat Key Police Department monitors officers’ vehicle speeds.

“We have what they call a Samurai system,” Turner said. “And, it goes on every one of the patrol cars and we can tell exactly (in) real-time, locations, speed, and actually you can map where the cars are going.”

Smith’s report also called for the town to spend $27,000 to purchase rifles for police and to provide the necessary training.

“I know that she wanted to hang long rifles and the guys would like to have long rifles, and we don’t have long rifles,” Turner said. “Well, that’s something for me to talk to Tom Harmer about someday.”

Smith also proposed for Longboat Key police to purchase body cameras. The department has cameras on the dash of its vehicles, but not body cameras.

What’s next

Turner insists the Longboat Key Police Department will not fail the CFA’s accreditation process once it begins.

Hansen said she anticipates the police department will become accredited, too.

“(There are) a lot of industries that are accredited, and when they do, then they have a time to fix something, and reapply and get it done,” Hansen said.

Part of the reason Harmer decided to hire Turner on an interim basis was due to his previous familiarity working as a town police department captain. Turner also helped the city of Brooksville’s now-defunct police department get accredited.

“He’s doing what he was asked to do, and we’ve been addressing a number of issues in the police department, under his leadership,” Harmer said. “I have a process that I’m going through before we make any final determination and I make any final determination on an appointment to the position.”

Harmer anticipated he would take between 30-60 days to make an appointment for the permanent police chief position. He said he plans to meet with town police officers this month.

Harmer also has accreditation experience outside of Longboat Key. For nearly five years, he has served on the board of the Center for Public Safety Excellence. The Chantilly, Virginia-based non-profit helps departments with accreditation all over the country.

The experience won’t just help the town’s police department.

“Our fire department is in the early stages of looking at accreditation, but they’re not as far along as the police department,” Harmer said.

Editor’s Note: This story has been edited to correct the spelling of the Center for Public Safety Excellence and to correct Tom Harmer’s position on the CPSE.

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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