Tarpon Springs Police Department being assessed this week for accreditation

Tarpon Springs police forensic scientist Max Sanchez, left, talks with Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation assessor Lt. David Rhinehart from the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday, the first day of a review of the department in Tarpon Springs. The city’s Police Department spent two years preparing.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Tarpon Springs police forensic scientist Max Sanchez, left, talks with Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation assessor Lt. David Rhinehart from the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday, the first day of a review of the department in Tarpon Springs. The city’s Police Department spent two years preparing.

TARPON SPRINGS — Police officers rolled out the armored vehicles, opened up the trucks and laid out their equipment to let men in suits poke around and ask questions.

The men in suits were part of a team in Tarpon Springs this week to assess the Tarpon Springs Police Department as it seeks voluntary state law enforcement accreditation.

On Tuesday, the first day of the three-day visit, the department displayed its different units, including the dive team, traffic homicide, negotiation, patrol, crime scene investigation and SWAT team.

Assessors will also ride along with officers responding to calls, listen to dispatchers, examine the handling of evidence and monitor the records center.

The department's 50 officers will be quizzed on their training, weapons and protective gear: What's the policy for pursuits? When should officers wear their reflective vests?

The department spent two years preparing for the assessors' visit this week, said accreditation manager Cpl. Frank Ruggiero.

"We started living the life of accreditation to make it easier," Ruggiero said.

Preparation included reviewing all of the department's policies and procedures to make sure they met certain standards.

Ruggiero said he hopes the accreditation application will correct the perception of the city Police Department by some who recall decades-old scandals, including a 1987 grand jury presentment that suggested the department should be disbanded because of political interference.

About a third of the state's hundreds of law enforcement agencies hold accredited status through the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation, Ruggiero said. In Pinellas County, the Clearwater and Largo police departments are accredited.

"It gives them a baseline that they have to meet — at least that minimum standard," said Osceola County Sheriff's Lt. David Rhinehart, the team leader for Tarpon Springs' accreditation.

Tarpon Springs will find out in February whether it has earned the three-year accreditation.

The department paid $1,500 to apply for the status, an amount approved in its annual budget, said police Chief Robert Kochen.

"This is a blueprint," he said, "for how to be professional."

Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or swang@tampabay.com.

Tarpon Springs Police Department being assessed this week for accreditation 12/12/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 6:56pm]

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