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Tarpon Springs police need accountability over school resource officers, ride-along programs

John Spatz and Michael Kazouris were Tarpon Springs police officers who ruined their careers with that department by getting involved in relationships with Tarpon Springs High School students. That is disturbing enough, but investigations of those two cases also have given the public a troubling glimpse into the internal operations of the Tarpon Springs Police Department. It is clear there has been insufficient supervision of officers and that a strong fraternization policy is needed.

The Kazouris case offered the first indication of a supervision problem. Kazouris, 36, was the leader of the department's school resource officer team and worked at Tarpon Springs High. He resigned this year as the department investigated allegations that he had a relationship with a female student at the school.

The investigation revealed, among other things, that Kazouris called or sent text messages to the student 5,300 times over the course of five months and had sex with the girl at his home after she turned 18 in May 2008. People at the school apparently were aware of the relationship. Kazouris' supervisors should have known about it, too, and about the apparent distraction from duty that it created. Even veteran officers like Kazouris need to work under close and capable supervision for the safety of the public and the department.

Officer John Spatz, 34, was fired in December after admitting to having an affair with a Tarpon Springs High School student he met through the police department's ride-along program. Spatz is appealing his dismissal, claiming that he did not violate any department policy and should be reinstated. Spatz said the girl had turned 18 by the time they had sex and that he was off-duty when the liaisons occurred. He also says he was separated from his wife during the time he had the affair.

Information revealed about the ride-along program during the Spatz investigation and subsequent appeal hearing is particularly alarming. The young woman in the Spatz case began riding with Tarpon officers when she was only 17, and though a written city policy stated that individuals could participate in the program only once every six months, this young woman rode with a different officer as often as three or four times a week, sometimes for full shifts. She was a regular around the department and on patrols.

No one seems to know how that happened. It cannot even be determined with certainty how often she rode with officers, which indicates the department needs to improve its record keeping. Since she was seen so often in the department, how is it that no one was aware that the city policy was being routinely violated? Or did they know, and just look the other way?

It is inappropriate for any police officer to be regularly accompanied in his patrol car by a civilian without the department brass being aware of it. The Tarpon Springs department's written policy governing the ride-along program needs to be improved to more specifically limit repeat riders and to require that someone in a command position be knowledgeable about who is riding with officers on any given day and why.

Tarpon Springs police need accountability over school resource officers, ride-along programs 06/15/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 15, 2009 5:52pm]
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