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Trio of police investigations reveals zero tolerance, Tarpon Springs officials say

TARPON SPRINGS — In the last seven months, three officers in the Tarpon Springs Police Department have either quit or been fired amid internal investigations into alleged wrongdoing.

The latest involves former officer Jeffrey Robinson, who resigned Wednesday after he was caught on camera cutting the bicycle tires of a homeless man.

Robinson, who had more than 20 years of police experience, said the man used a racial epithet repeatedly toward him, and admitted cutting the tires in retaliation.

Tarpon Springs officials say the fact that the three incidents were thoroughly investigated, and quickly acted upon, exemplifies a police administration that will not tolerate misconduct from its officers.

"You need to set the proper example of the ones who do wrong," said Mark LeCouris, Tarpon Springs' former police chief from 1993 until becoming the city manager last August. "Three at one time could be considered troubling. Three out of 50 sworn officers, well, that's a small percentage.

"But the example is that we have high standards and if you don't, you don't work for us. You know, if I do this, I'm going to be fired."

The acting police chief since June, Cpt. Robert Kochen, said misconduct "will not be tolerated at all."

Mayor Beverley Billiris said she has confidence in the department and its officers.

"We have a very strong Police Department," Billiris said Friday. "Those incidents are unfortunate but each was addressed and disciplined. With those types of behavior, we have a zero tolerance policy and when we come upon them, we act. I'm proud of them and they do an excellent job for our city."

In December, officer John Spatz, 34, was fired after officials learned he had sexual contact with an 18-year-old woman he met during the department's ride-along program.

She was 17 and a student at Tarpon Springs High School when she entered the program.

Spatz, who was married, appealed his firing and is awaiting an arbitrator's decision.

"If we are told to hire him back, we would have to," LeCouris said. "But from our point of view, for his actions, we had to fire him."

In March, Cpl. Michael Kazouris, the leader of the Police Department's school resource officer team, resigned after being cleared of criminal wrongdoing on an allegation that he had improper contact with a female high school student.

A 16-page criminal investigation report revealed that Kazouris, 36, called or sent text messages to a 17-year-old Tarpon Springs High student more than 5,300 times over the course of five months.

The investigation also found that Kazouris and the student had sex at Kazouris' home on at least three occasions after she turned 18.

On Wednesday, in the most recent case, Robinson, 52, resigned after a three-month internal investigation, complete with video evidence, determined that he slashed the bicycle tires of John Bilawsky, a homeless man.

Robinson declined to speak to a Times reporter at his home Friday.

LeCouris said in some police departments, the officers may not have faced the same consequences for their actions.

"In other departments, you may have seen a 10-day suspension," LeCouris said.

LeCouris said it's difficult to prevent officers from doing wrong.

"We hire from the human race and therefore there is human frailty," LeCouris said.

"You can do all the screening and background checks, but it is on them to make the right decision. On the administration side, it's our job to address it (the human frailty) swiftly, legally and openly."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

Trio of police investigations reveals zero tolerance, Tarpon Springs officials say 07/03/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 4, 2009 1:54pm]
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