NEW PORT RICHEY — Less than a week after Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco threatened to pull out of Pasco-Hernando Community College's law enforcement academy, he is eyeing a new place to train his recruits with Pasco County schools.
"It's a great opportunity for the Sheriff's Office to have a strong partnership in developing the next generation of law enforcement officers in our county," Nocco said.
He approached superintendent Kurt Browning and assistant superintendent Ray Gadd a few weeks ago to entertain the idea of joining with the school district to create a new police academy, an arrangement in place in several Florida counties.
Gadd said he looked to law enforcement academies at Citrus County's Withlacoochee Technical Institute and Manatee Technical Institute in Manatee County as examples.
"We think it's a great model," Gadd said.
Pasco's School Board already has academies at high schools, such as Fivay's criminal justice program. The talked-about academy would be for high school graduates. Gadd said he's already found space for a new police academy at Marchman Technical Education Center in Port Richey.
As part of a capital construction program, Marchman is due to get a $7 million face-lift in the next three years. Gadd said talks with the sheriff have been "good timing" for planning the construction. He's hoping to begin a partnership with the Sheriff's Office "soon after the first of the year."
Browning emphasized that talks with the Sheriff's Office are preliminary. No partnership has been forged. Nothing is finalized or even started, and any new arrangement would have to be approved by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Any decisions about the current academy also would have to go through Nocco and PHCC president Katherine Johnson.
Nocco revealed in recent weeks that — in his view — relations between his agency and PHCC have been crumbling for months. He did not point to any specific instance as the cause for the rift, though he did say some of the college's hiring choices were part of his concern.
In recent weeks, the Tampa Bay Times investigated two PHCC instructors who continued to teach after resigning from the Sheriff's Office while under investigation. Nocco said the situation has given him reason to worry about what his future recruits are learning.
Johnson, in a recent email, said she was shocked at Nocco's threat of separating from the college and said the relationship between the Sheriff's Office and PHCC "has been mutually beneficial to both organizations in meeting their mission."
The college formed an ad hoc committee to explore better communication with the Pasco and Hernando sheriff's offices.
"If the sheriff decides to move this academy, then he's going to need a place to park it," Browning said. "Does it fit (with the school district)? Yes. (Nocco and Johnson) will need to come to terms on what's going to happen. At that point, if the sheriff wants to move it to the schools, we would be more than willing to sit down and talk."
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