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GPS units used in inquiry into Tampa officers

TAMPA — Three Tampa police detectives have resigned from their $80,000-a-year jobs and a fourth detective has been fired for skipping out of work early but charging the department for a full 40-hour week.

During a 51/2-month internal affairs investigation, members of the agency secretly tracked their colleagues through physical and electronic surveillance, including GPS devices. They found that the four officers either went home or to other jobs during hours they were supposed to be on duty.

Three veteran detectives — David Rochelle, Vincent Bush and Donna Noblitt — retired after learning they were being investigated. A fourth detective, Theresa Dennis, apologized during a sworn interview for violating department rules, but still lost her $70,000-a-year job.

Though disappointed to lose the expertise of the long-time employees with mostly positive work histories, Assistant Police Chief Bob Guidara said Thursday that the agency does not tolerate such a "gross violation" of its attendance policy.

"They lost their way," he said. "Once you compromise your integrity in these cases, there's no recovery."

There is no evidence that any police investigations were hurt by the detectives' conduct, Guidara said.

"Apparently they were able to manage their case loads, (though) probably not as effectively as they could have," he said.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office reviewed the investigation but decided there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges, according to the internal affairs report released Thursday.

Attempts to reach the officers for comment were unsuccessful.

Last spring, supervisors noticed that several detectives who were supposed to work until 5 p.m. were gone from their desks an hour before.

That observation prompted a review of the time cards and parking garage records for all 40 detectives in the major crimes unit. Only four had a pattern of showing up late or leaving early.

Police Chief Steve Hogue ordered a formal investigation. Internal affairs investigators reviewed past timecards, leave slips, gas mileage receipts and parking garage records obtained from the Criminal Intelligence Bureau.

Those documents, plus subsequent surveillance, confirmed that the four detectives were not working all the hours they claimed on their timecards, the internal affairs report states.

Here's what the investigation found:

• Hit-and-run detective David Rochelle, a 29-year veteran, left work early 80 out of the 88 days of the investigation. During the review, 154.5 hours reported on his timecards could not be verified as having been worked. Rochelle, 51, retired Nov. 5.

• Economic crimes detective Vincent Bush, a 22-year veteran, left work early 89 out of 91 days. During that time, 84 hours were not verified as having been worked. Bush, 48, retired Nov. 5.

• Sex crimes detective Donna Noblitt, a 24-year veteran, left work early 48 out of 61 days. During the review, 71.4 hours were not verified as having been worked. Noblitt, 50, retired Oct. 30.

• Hit-and-run detective Theresa Dennis, a 9-year veteran, left work early 68 out of 71 days. During the review, 122.8 hours were not verified as having been worked. Dennis, 36, was fired.

Dennis admitted to violating agency rules. She will not receive a police pension.

The other three detectives did not show up for their interviews with internal affairs investigators. Because they retired before the investigation was completed, they will receive their pensions.

In recent evaluations, each of the detectives were complimented by their superiors as assets to the police agency, their personnel files show.

In the late 1980s, Rochelle was disciplined for conducting personal business while on duty.

Bush was briefly suspended in 2003 after being arrested in a beer theft but later won a $50,000 settlement from the City of Tarpon Springs for a wrongful arrest.

Last year, all four of the detectives received a certificate for a training program they completed. The topic? Ethics in government.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this story. Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

GPS units used in inquiry into Tampa officers 12/18/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 22, 2008 1:55pm]

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