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St. Petersburg police officer suspended for disabling cruiser's GPS

ST. PETERSBURG — Police Chief Chuck Harmon has suspended an officer for two days after the department determined he violated policy by unplugging the Global Positioning System in his patrol car.

Officer Chris Dixon also will receive an employee notice in his file, according to a memo released Thursday.

"If officers do something they shouldn't be doing, we're going to hold them accountable," Harmon said Thursday. "We're not going to be afraid to look at our own."

The revelation about GPS disabling came about after Dixon, 26, was accused of being involved in a hit-and-run accident outside Tropicana Field in 2009.

A Riverview man told authorities an officer rear-ended him after a Rays game. After a six-week investigation, Dixon was cited for careless driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

In December, a judge found Dixon not guilty on both charges. But during the trial, Dixon admitted disabling his GPS system on different occasions.

Others testified that it's well known that officers sometimes disable the devices if they don't want headquarters to be able to track their speed or location. All it takes is undocking the laptop, they said.

On Thursday, a board convened by Harmon did not sustain any allegations related to the accident, but determined Dixon did engage in conduct unbecoming an officer and broke department rules about computer use.

Harmon said he feels the two-day suspension is adequate, calling it a moderate punishment.

Dixon, who joined the department in 2008, did not have any previous discipline in his file.

Harmon noted that Dixon maintained his innocence about the accident but freely admitted that he had undocked his computer in the past.

Department policy requires officers to have it on whenever an officer if driving.

In his memo, Harmon said the tracking system is for officers' safety and efficiency.

He issued a warning to those who might be disabling their GPS.

"Employees, if they are engaging in this practice, will be subject to disciplinary action," Harmon wrote. "Additionally, officers who have assigned take home vehicles and intentionally undock their in-car computer will also incur the loss of take-home vehicle privileges for a minimum of 18 months."

Dixon, who was reassigned to a desk job after the accident, will get a chance to return to patrol duty soon.

"He's been off the street almost a year and a half," Harmon said. "Once he completes the suspension he'll be put back on patrol."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

St. Petersburg police officer suspended for disabling cruiser's GPS 04/14/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 14, 2011 9:38pm]
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