Sunday, February 25, 2018
Public safety

Whistle-blower points to problems in PHSC police academy

NEW PORT RICHEY — A whistle-blower at Pasco-Hernando State College's law enforcement academy brought allegations last month that include questions being removed from tests, which allowed failing students to pass.

The academy has been the target of criticism for the better part of a year now — mostly from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. This is the first time someone inside the academy has raised concerns about the quality of instruction and other issues.

According to a letter from Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Bureau of Standards Chief Glen Hopkins to PHSC president Katherine Johnson, the whistle-blower — who is not named but is described as an advanced and specialized training coordinator — reported the concerns to an FDLE representative on June 13. They include:

• Firearms tests being incorrectly scored. The letter does not specify how they were incorrectly scored but says students in those firearms classes were not required to test again.

• Questions being removed from tests, allowing some students to pass who would have otherwise failed.

• Instructors being "routinely" absent from classes, which had to be covered by other instructors who were not prepared to teach the topics. In one case, an instructor dismissed class early because the instructor "did not feel that any additional time was necessary to cover the material."

• The student guide for the academy is being used, though it has not been approved by the college.

The letter, dated June 23, instructs the college to do its own investigation into the allegations and report the results to FDLE. There is no deadline for the inquiry, FDLE officials said.

"PHSC administrators take all complaints seriously, whether internal or external," college spokeswoman Lucy Miller wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. "We are conducting a thorough internal review and will act appropriately, based on the outcome of the inquiry."

Miller did not respond to other questions from the Times.

The whistle-blower's allegations come just three months before the deadline imposed by House Speaker Will Weatherford on the college and Sheriff's Office to reach an agreement on running a joint law enforcement academy.

In the last year, Pasco Sheriff Chris 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 March, the Sheriff's Office and the college began negotiations on jointly running a law enforcement academy after some prodding from Weatherford, Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning and others. However, the dialogue quickly focused on one sticking point neither seemed willing to concede: Who will appoint and oversee the academy's director and other instructors?

This week Nocco said he is still interested in pursuing a partnership with the college but was met with silence after asking about the recent allegations. He said he learned about the letter from Hopkins from members of the law enforcement community and requested it from FDLE.

"There is an investigation going on and we don't know what's occurring," he said. "We want a partnership, but anybody who's going into a partnership would want to know all of the facts and all of the issues before signing a contract."

Contact Alex Orlando at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

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