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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010 8 years ago

Police panel debates mission

by: Robin Roy City Editor

As the Police Advisory Panel reaches middle age in its six-month lifespan, some members are growing concerned that they’ll be able to fulfill their mission.

“I’m getting a little bit of a panic,” said panel member Dan Bailey. “We’ve only got seven meetings left.”

What began to worry others is that the panel began discussions Feb. 8 to host two upcoming events — one at a Hispanic church and the other in Newtown — to allow minority citizens to discuss their past dealings with police. The events would include music and food and may not be scheduled until March or April.

“A word of caution about delving too far in the past,” said panel adviser Peter Graham. “You’ll get bogged down and never get out.”

The City Commission created the Police Advisory Panel to analyze the policies and procedures of the Sarasota Police Department in the wake of the June 26 incident, in which a handcuffed suspect was kicked to the ground and the subsequent investigation was botched.

The city commissioned a 3,000-page, internal-affairs report on that incident and investigation. Advisory Panel Chairwoman Susan Chapman’s timeline culled from that report also had panel members concerned about their mission.

For 20 minutes, Chapman described each step listed in the report. At least two panel members felt it was a waste of time.

“I’m having a hard time understanding why we’re going into this in such detail,” said John McGruder. “This case is out there already. We’re not here to solve it.”

Bailey agreed.

“I was asked to serve on this panel, but I was reluctant because I didn’t want to re-pass judgment,” he said. “I want to look forward.”

Chapman believed the timeline demonstrated that the police department was more concerned about public relations than initiating a criminal investigation.

City commissioners will get their say about the direction of the panel during its final three months. Chapman will issue a report on the panel’s progress so far at the commission’s Feb. 16 meeting.

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