PORT RICHEY — The city's new interim police chief is conducting an internal review of the department and has ceased all vehicle sales from a troubled impound lot that is the focus of an ongoing state inquiry.
It has been three weeks since interim Chief James Gabbard took over the police department for Dave Brown, who retired after every officer in April approved a "no confidence" vote against him.
As the union held that vote, City Manager Tom O'Neill asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look into allegations of "improprieties" in the city's police impound lot. O'Neill told FDLE that three surplus police vehicles were traded "for services or equipment" without consent from the City Council, in violation of city code.
Gabbard told the Times he has been focusing on a review of the department including re-cataloguing evidence and weapons, checking all policies and procedures, and meeting with staff. He said the FDLE investigation has weighed on them.
"That is certainly a concern for all of our employees," Gabbard said. "FDLE doesn't do anything halfway so we don't know how long this will take."
Because of that uncertainty, Gabbard has pledged to stay on the job for three to four months to get through budget season and assist O'Neill in finding a permanent chief. The city will begin advertising the position in the coming days.
Gabbard — who lives in Vero Beach and is staying in a local hotel — said he does not want the job permanently. But he has the desire to help a department that has been mired in controversy.
"It's so important. It's important for the residents of Port Richey, for our police officers, for the people that work here," he said.
O'Neill has remained mum on specifics regarding the alleged "improprieties" with the impound lot, but said this week there is no paperwork on the trading of the three surplus police vehicles and he does not know where the cars are. Both O'Neill and Gabbard have met extensively with FDLE and turned over numerous documents and computers, he added.
Gabbard has brought some stability back to the department under difficult circumstances, O'Neill said.
"I think he has been widely accepted by the department's rank and file," O'Neill said.