NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco-Hernando State College and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office are now in their fourth week of negotiations on jointly running a law enforcement academy, brokered by a powerful mediator: Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.
The Wesley Chapel Republican said he spoke with both entities in recent weeks and urged them to forge an agreement.
"It is in the best interest of Pasco County to have a well-functioning and cooperative relationship between Pasco-Hernando State College and the Pasco County Sheriff," he said in an email. "I am simply supporting a fair outcome to this dispute. However, I have communicated separately to both sides that failure to reach a solution is not an option. I am confident that a resolution can be reached."
Weatherford spoke individually to Sheriff Chris Nocco and PHSC president Katherine Johnson, who have been at a stalemate since last summer.
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, he proposed opening a new academy with the school district at Marchman Technical Education Center in New Port Richey.
On March 11, after another dustup with the college, Nocco issued a memo barring his employees from teaching at PHSC.
Now, both sides have changed their rhetoric. PHSC spokeswoman Lucy Miller declined to comment for this story, saying the college felt it "best not to comment to the media during our discussions with the Sheriff's Office."
Nocco said his goal is "to create a partnership and build a world-class institute."
However, a number of letters and phone conversations between college and Sheriff's Office attorneys have distilled to one sticking point neither seems willing to concede: Who will appoint the academy's director?
Both have pointed to neighboring law enforcement academies in their correspondence as examples of how they would like to see things run in Pasco County.
The college has offered a model similar to the agreement between the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and Hillsborough Community College. There, the Sheriff's Office hires its own recruits and puts them through the academy, paying their tuition, while also providing instructors who are Sheriff's Office employees. Faculty members answer to the college and also work closely with the Sheriff's Office. The director is appointed by the college.
"We feel like we're able to control who trains our personnel," said Major Alan Hill of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office's training division.
Johnson has proposed that the college appoint its own academy director. The Pasco Sheriff's Office would appoint an associate director. They would work together to schedule classes in the academy. The associate director would help the director choose teaching candidates and serve on a committee to keep training programs up to date.
Nocco wants someone from his agency running the academy.
In letters, he pointed to the Polk County Sheriff's Office as an example, which has full control over the academy at Polk State College. The Polk Sheriff's Office staffs the academy and appoints as director one of its captains, who is also under contract with the college. The academy also trains recruits from Winter Haven and Lakeland police departments.
Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said the agreement has been in place over a decade without conflict.
"Our relationship is perfect," Judd said. "It's our police academy, but it is run by and is the responsibility of the college."
PHSC voiced concerns about how it would maintain accreditation standards, saying the model "does not provide authority for the college to protect that integrity since it has no reporting responsibilities or accountability standards in relation to the academy."
Nocco responded by noting the Polk academy is accredited and is the only one of its kind accredited under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act.
He said with a smaller agency and a smaller budget, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office would not be able to afford operating the same kind of academy as in Hillsborough.
Contact Alex Orlando at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.