Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: End academy dispute to better serve public

The deteriorating relationship between Pasco County's largest police department and the law enforcement academy run by Pasco Hernando State College is a public embarrassment that needs to end before it expands into an unnecessary and expensive disservice to taxpayers.

Last week, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco banned his employees from teaching at the academy after the college protested a separate arrangement between the Sheriff's Office and the Citrus County-based Withlacoochee Technical Institute to train 22 recruits at the Land O'Lakes jail. It brought a swift response from the chairman of the college's board of trustees critical of what he described as Nocco's personal and vindictive tone toward the state college's academy.

But who did Nocco's edict really hurt? This month, nine Pasco Sheriff's Office employees are teaching at the college's academy at a wage of approximately $28 per instructional hour. That's lost income to them. Meanwhile, the college is already recruiting replacements and the students must wonder if Police Politics 101 should be part of the curriculum.

The escalating dispute dates to last summer when Nocco and Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis publicly faulted the college for retaining an instructor/coordinator who had been subject to numerous internal affairs investigations during his law enforcement career. By late November, the college fired the employee for failing to cooperate during an unrelated sexual harassment investigation of a co-worker. At nearly the same time, the academy's director announced her early retirement and an ad hoc committee recommended changes to improve hiring and oversight of the academy's instructional staff.

Even with the academy's personnel issues settled, the sheriffs unreasonably made other plans. Nienhuis affiliated his agency with the Withlacoochee Technical Institute and Nocco and the Pasco County School District began exploring the possibility of starting their own police academy as part of a $7 million makeover of the Marchman Technical Education Center in west Pasco. That plan remains in limbo because the school district has yet to file the required application with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The delay is opportune. A second academy and training site is an unnecessary duplication of services that the public shouldn't have to finance. The school district should just bag its plans entirely and redirect the mission at Marchman to a niche training not already provided locally. Besides, the college is poised to name its new academy director who should be allowed to implement the committee's recommendations to improve the school's operations.

Simultaneously, the sheriff and the college should consider prudent alternatives like sharing the training facilities in east Pasco so each can operate and manage their own academies under the college's oversight. The Sheriff's Office can be responsible for training its recruits while the college can continue to serve the rest of the region. That or some similar compromise would not be unreasonable.

What would be unreasonable is for the elected sheriff of Pasco County and the administration at Pasco Hernando State College to continue this rift that undermines the public confidence in both and unfairly tarnishes the credibility of the training available to the future police and detention officers serving Pasco County.

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