There is both bad news and good news in the recent investigations of several Tarpon Springs police officers.
The bad news is that three Tarpon Springs officers have demonstrated such bad judgment or misbehavior that they had to leave the force. The public expects police officers to set high personal and professional standards and abide by the laws they enforce in their daily work, and all three officers violated that expectation.
The good news is that the department conducted lengthy investigations of all three and took action, demonstrating that police misconduct "will not be tolerated at all," said acting police chief Robert Kochen, who took over the helm when former chief Mark LeCouris was named city manager. Kochen appears to be a by-the-book sort of officer, who, with the support of a city manager who used to be police chief, can do a lot to bring more discipline and organization to the department.
The three recent cases have brought attention of an unwelcome kind to the 50-officer department.
Last December, Officer John Spatz, 34, was fired after department officials learned that he had sexual contact with a young woman who had been riding along with various officers in the department for months. She was 17 and a Tarpon Springs High School student when she began participating in the department's ride-along program, but Spatz said she had turned 18 by the time they became intimate. Spatz, who says he was separated from his wife at the time, has appealed his firing and the city is awaiting an arbiter's decision. The rules governing the ride-along program have been changed.
In March, another Tarpon officer got in trouble for alleged dalliances with a young woman. Cpl. Michael Kazouris, 36, a school resource officer at Tarpon Springs High School and head of the department's resource officer team, resigned after an investigation turned up thousands of text messages he sent to a 17-year-old girl at the school. The two allegedly had sex after she turned 18. While Kazouris was cleared of any criminal behavior and he claims the department's internal affairs investigation was one-sided, his poor judgment in his relationship with the student was apparent.
The third case came to light last week. Officer Jeffrey Robinson, 52, resigned after a three-month department investigation showed that in February he vandalized a resident's bicycle stored at the Police Department. According to department officials, Robinson admitted that he slashed the tires of the bicycle belonging to a local homeless man he had arrested 10 days earlier. Robinson, who is black, said the man used several racial slurs against him as he drove him to jail, so he retaliated later by slashing the man's bike tires. Robinson was caught on video removing the bicycle from storage and returning it with flattened tires.
One could argue that for such misconduct, Kazouris and Robinson should have been fired rather than being allowed to resign. However, what's most important is that the department brass pursued detailed investigations of the officers and did not try to excuse their bad behavior.
The officers' departures send an unmistakable and necessary message to the other Tarpon Springs officers that serious transgressions will not be ignored.