Saturday, April 21, 2018
Public safety

Pasco sheriff, PHSC reach agreement on law enforcement academy

NEW PORT RICHEY — The Pasco Sheriff's Office and Pasco-Hernando State College agreed Tuesday night on jointly running a law enforcement academy.

After more than a year of conflict between the two agencies, the college's board of trustees approved the contract unanimously in a matter of minutes.

"We've toiled in this vineyard for a while," said board chairman Leonard Johnson.

The crux of the agreement, proposed and signed by Sheriff Chris Nocco on Aug. 18, allows the Sheriff's Office to appoint an academy director, who will be an agency member. The appointment, according to a news release, will give the Sheriff's Office more say in the academy's instructor hiring.

"The Pasco Sheriff's Office could not be more pleased with this contract and more importantly the new level of partnership we have established with PHSC," Nocco said in the release.

PHSC president Katherine Johnson agreed.

"We are pleased to have forged a clear and mutually beneficial agreement with the Pasco County Sheriff," Johnson said in the release.

The agreement comes 36 days before the deadline imposed last spring by House Speaker Will Weatherford, who stepped in as the rift between the Sheriff's Office and PHSC that began last summer dragged on.

Nocco has accused the college of not meeting ethical standards, using favoritism in hiring and employing disgruntled former Sheriff's Office employees who pass on bad morale to prospective recruits. The sheriff's attorney also said the academy's equipment is sparse and training facilities are dilapidated. In January, Nocco proposed opening a new academy with the school district at Marchman Technical Education Center in New Port Richey. That plan was eventually abandoned in favor of finding common ground.

By April, talks distilled to one sticking point: Who would appoint the academy's director?

Now, that issue has been resolved and the Sheriff's Office has already appointed a new director. Stephen Hartnett, a Tampa Police Department captain, starts next week. He will also serve as a training captain at the Sheriff's Office.

He replaces Charlie May, who retired last year as the Pasco sheriff's chief forensic investigator after 25 years with the agency and was appointed director in March. His short tenure was marked by a whistleblower complaint over May's management.

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