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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010 7 years ago

Police panel concerns remain unresolved

by: Robin Roy City Editor

After the Police Advisory Panel objected to the city’s interpretation of its final recommendations, the City Commission complied with the panel’s request to meet with city staff and police commanders to settle their differences.

The city accepted 93 of the panel’s 111 recommendations and sub-recommendations. Staff had questioned some of the items because of budget considerations or possible union objections.

Panel members were upset that 100% of their recommendations were not immediately adopted.
Peter Graham, a panel adviser, complained that management treated the final document as an itemized list of recommendations, instead of accepting it as a full report.

“I want to make this very clear,” said City Manager Bob Bartolotta. “The administration and police department are open to change. Whether we agree to 100% or 95%, we are committed to building trust with the community.”

Eight panel members met Aug. 13 with city staff and four top-level police commanders to try to come to a consensus.

Not much progress was made.

Several contested recommendations were discussed and then put off for further clarification.

For example, panel members insisted on the adoption of a permanent police panel and a Complaints Against Police Office, which would be staffed by a full-time city employee and would review all complaints against and internal-affairs investigations of officers.

“I don’t want the (police) chief accountable to an unelected body,” said Bartolotta.

Panel members contend that the purpose is to make the internal-affairs process more transparent, so the public is confident that it’s conducted fairly.

Susan Chapman, police panel chairwoman, said most of the time the permanent panel’s findings would be the same as the police department’s.

“You say ‘find,’” Bartolotta said. “(But) the panel is not going to say whether the (internal-affairs) report is right or wrong.”

Another point of contention is whether citizens who file false reports against police officers can be prosecuted.

The chief of police, city attorney and state attorney’s office are adamant that someone should face legal penalties if he lies about a police officer’s actions.

“If the officer is exonerated, that’s the relief,” said Chapman, who didn’t want threatening language to dissuade citizens from filing complaints.

“(The officer’s) reputation is still tarnished,” said Bartolotta.

Both of those recommendations went unresolved.

The full Police Advisory Panel will gather Aug. 26 to vote on any changes to its recommendations.

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