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Our View

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  • | 4:00 a.m. July 30, 2009
  • Sarasota
  • Opinion
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Oh my. So much is disturbing about the Sarasota Police Department’s suspect-kicking scandal it is difficult to see how anything good can come of this for police Chief Peter Abbott. Even if he did admit his mistakes and apologize.

Surely Sarasotans who have followed this incident must be disturbed:

• That a police officer kicks a suspect who clearly is not a man of means. You wonder: Would that same officer kick a more prominent citizen who falls to the ground after climbing out of a squad-car window?

What compelled this officer?

• That it took a week for a commander to report the incident to the chief.

• That the police department uses taxpayer funds to bribe/pay off/“settle” with suspects to eliminate/limit/cover up their (and taxpayers’) legal and financial exposure for their mistakes. While it appears to average citizens as a bribe or pay-off, the police department calls this practice “risk management.”

These are all outcomes of a system that has no external or market-driven checks and balanaces.

Indeed, what do we think is going to happen when police services are provided by a labor union that monopolizes the market and holds fear as a gun to the head of the public (i.e. “Give us the money and officers we want or you’re going to be overrun by crime.”)

Citizens have no public-safety choices. It’s either accept the services and demands of the police union or … what? There is no competing, market-driven, police-protection company that can hold the existing department in check.

Instead, the public must rely on the internal checks and balances and ethics among the officers who already are part of the system and who, for the most part, have been raised in the fraternal brotherhood.

They know the unspoken fraternity codes, and they are not always the same codes the public would expect.

And what do we think is going to happen when a police hierarchy operates in a separate building away from its boss in a fiefdom that uses the veil of investigative privilege to control the flow of information?

These conditions can and do produce only one outcome: Behavior that often germinates into corruption.

Sarasota citizens don’t know yet whether the entire incident with arrestee Juan Perez — the kicking, lack of reporting and pay-off — was an aberration or accepted practice. City Manager Bob Bartolotta’s independent investigation likely will tell us that.

But it was telling, nonetheless, when Bartolotta put Abbott on administrative leave. The city manager did not express full confidence in the chief — even after Abbott apologized. This sent the signal that Bartolotta, at the time and after speaking with Abbott, felt he did not have enough information to believe this incident was an exception to the chief’s managerial judgment and the department’s operations.

And while Bartolotta may have suspended Abbott as a sign to the public Bartolotta is determined to uncover information impartially, the city manager’s action puts Abbott in an untenable position. Bartolotta and the public’s trust in Abbott has diminished. At the same time, Abbott’s error and suspension embolden the union against management and weaken Abbott’s standing among his troops.

To be the effective chief citizens want, Abbott needs glowing results from the independent investigation. So far, there’s little to think that will be the result.


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