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New Tampa police bureau to conduct agencywide audits

TAMPA — For 11 years, the Tampa Police Department has focused on crime reduction, pushing every year for fewer reports.

This year, police Chief Jane Castor wants to target something different. On Tuesday, she announced a new Professional Standards Bureau that will conduct "mini audits" through 2014.

Castor wants to improve training, standardize procedures, check equipment and reduce complaints. "This, in my opinion, is the final element in making this organization the best it can possibly be," she said.

The chief is pushing back her May retirement a year, in part, to see this plan through. The agency developed the idea in October, during its annual strategic meeting.

Four lieutenants have been assigned to the bureau. They will focus on:

• use of force and vehicle pursuits

• complaints and quality of service

• policies, procedures and report writing

• vehicles and equipment.

The audits are not in response to any problems in the agency, Castor said. Last year, Tampa police's DUI unit was under fire after its supervisor was accused of participating in a local lawyer's setup DUI arrest. As a result, Castor asked some community leaders to review the agency's DUI practices, and the group came back with several recommendations — including that officers write more thorough reports.

Castor said that did not prompt the creation of this new bureau. Instead, the DUI squad review is a good example of what the agency is trying to accomplish, she said.

During one audit Tuesday, officers searched police cars — including Castor's — checking for necessary equipment, including a fire extinguisher, gas mask and trauma kit. Castor pulled out a wad of colorful plastic beads from her trunk and laughed.

"In case there's an emergency parade," she said.

The city already audits some aspects of the Police Department, which is also subject to state and national accreditation checks.

Earlier this year, the city reviewed Tampa police's communications bureau, finding that not all calls resulted in dispatches within the required time frames. It also found that the bureau was not significantly affected by 911 misuse and abuse, a report states.

Later this year, the city will audit the police's forensics, including its evidence room, said internal audit director Christine Glover.

She doubts the city's periodic checks will overlap with the Police Department's ongoing approach, and she commended the new effort.

"Departments across the city, they should be doing that," Glover said.

Previously, internal police audits were often done separately by each of the agency's four districts. This agencywide approach will improve standardization, Castor said.

Some analysis will be focused on training and policies, such as when to chase a suspect or use force. The bureau plans to create new online and in-person training for officers in hope of improving safety and making department policies easy to understand.

When it comes to auditing complaints, Castor said the bureau will be looking for patterns so police can prevent problems, instead of just reacting to complaints.

She said the effort will be called a success if complaints decrease, the quality of officers' written reports improves and the agency creates uniform checks and balances across the organization.

Tampa police have also applied for a federal grant that would assign a researcher to follow the department's audit process and create a repeatable model for other agencies.

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

New Tampa police bureau to conduct agencywide audits 04/01/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 11:55pm]
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