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Brooksville police pass state review

BROOKSVILLE — He knew it was a risk.

Brooksville police Chief George Turner and his officers had prepared since early 2009 for the moment. Over three days this past week, a state assessment team scoured their records, evaluated their procedures and even scrutinized the color of their shirts.

Late Thursday afternoon, Turner was about to find out if the Brooksville Police Department would receive accreditation for the first time in the city's history. As he prepared for the meeting at which he would learn the agency's fate, Turner invited his boss, Brooksville City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha, to attend.

"I was confident, but I had no inside info," he said. "I can imagine some people saying maybe you might not want to do that."

But, in fact, all three assessors told him they intended to recommend the department be accredited.

Though they have already received the good news, the title won't be official until the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation meets June 30 in Bonita Springs.

"It's kind of like winning the lottery," Turner said, "but not being able to take the money for a while."

To prepare for the evaluation, Turner had hired an accreditation manager, Sgt. Robert Dixon, who had previously helped the Tampa International Airport Police Department receive national accreditation.

To earn the state honor, Dixon said, the Brooksville agency had to comply with 152 mandatory standards. It also had to meet 80 percent of another 108 guidelines.

The assessors evaluated, for example, how the agency handled evidence, what policies officers follow when they pursue suspects and to what extent officers are qualified with their weapons.

The process, Dixon said, is comprehensive. Leading up to last week, he maintained file cabinets filled with documents that proved the agency is up to code.

Streamlining procedures and sometimes purging outdated or ineffective practices, he said, is among the greatest benefits accreditation offers to those who pursue it.

"An accreditation is not a destination," Dixon said. "It's a journey."

New Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis forfeited his department's accreditation earlier this year, citing financial concerns. But, Nienhuis added, initial accreditation is valuable because it forces a law enforcement entity to comply with proven operating procedures.

Still, with the city's support, Turner said he intends to maintain the agency's accreditation for as long as he's chief.

Although Dixon makes about $37,000 as a part-time officer, Turner said his efforts could save the agency money in the long run. Accreditation lowers insurance costs and, in the face of a lawsuit, can support the standards by which officers deal with challenging situations.

"We can defend what we do," he said. "Obviously, our insurance company should be very happy with that."

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.

Brooksville police pass state review 04/23/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 23, 2011 1:38pm]

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