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Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009 8 years ago

Police panel may rack up costs

by: Robin Roy City Editor

When City Manager Bob Bartolotta proposed a review of the Sarasota Police Department in the wake of the botched investigation into the videotaped kicking of a handcuffed suspect, Vice Mayor Kelly Kirschner objected to the $55,000 cost and suggested creating an all-volunteer panel of local citizens to save money.

But, as the newly formed Police Advisory Panel met for the first time this week, its 11 members discussed the possibility of conducting a citywide survey to see how the community views the police department.

To create questions for the survey, focus groups using paid respondents and a paid professional company to conduct them were suggested.

The total cost is not known, but, based on previous estimates, it could enter the six-figure range.

“It’ll cost money, but good data generates good policy,” said Dr. James Unnever, a member of a three-member committee of experts, which advises the advisory panel.

Unnever is a University of South Florida professor, whose expertise is race relations within the criminal-justice system.

He suggested the survey be administered in a door-to-door fashion in the high-minority community area between Second Street and Myrtle Street and U.S. 41 and U.S. 301 — an area he estimated contains about 15,000 residents.

The cost, Unnever said, would not be more than $80,000.

But, when other panel members suggested the survey should encompass the whole city and not just the minority community, Unnever said that would make the survey much more expensive.

Panel Chairwoman Susan Chapman suggested using previous citizen surveys, which the city conducts every two years, to collect data on attitudes toward police.

“A citywide survey is going to be fabulously expensive,” she said.

But Unnever said those surveys were “probably going to be worthless.”

Vice Chairman Adam Tebrugge said a survey would be unnecessary.

“I think the reason we’re all on this panel is because we represent different groups,” he said. “We should speak to our groups and report back to this committee.”

The group will continue its discussion on whether to conduct a survey at its Dec. 14 meeting.

The Police Advisory Panel has been assigned nine tasks to accomplish in its six-month lifespan, but in its first meeting, the group concentrated mainly on just one — the relationship between police and minorities. And that didn’t sit well with some of the board’s 11 members.

“I don’t think it should just be African-American and Hispanic communities,” said John McGruder, board member of Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity. “It should be the whole city.”

“To focus on two cultural groups is totally wrong,” said Maria Gelinas, president of the Central Cocoanut Neighborhood Association. “It has to be a balance.”

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