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Police study wins applause

A consultant's report that recommends dozens of changes in the Tampa Police Department _ including random drug tests and the construction of a new police station _ drew raves Thursday from City Council members, high-ranking police officials and the head of the police union. "This is absolutely the most far-reaching management study I've seen in 30 years," said Bob Smith, the city's public safety director. "If we can implement these things, we'll be set for the next decade."

The 400-page report, which cost taxpayers $145,000 to produce, was put together by R.A. Smith & Associates, a management consulting firm. It calls for the random drug testing of officers, a proposal city officials and union leaders have been working on for about six months.

Other recommendations include increased training of detectives and special police squads and changes aimed at improving the response time of police to calls.

But the consultant's work may not end with the release of the recommendations. Smith, Police Chief Austin C. McLane and Police Benevolent Association president Bob Sheehan asked the council to pay the firm another $148,000 in exchange for its help in implementing the recommendations.

"He's gained the confidence of the department," Smith said of the consultant. "If we delay, we may never get it done in a timely manner."

Several council members questioned why the department can't act on the recommendations without the firm's assistance.

"I think our people are perfectly capable of putting it in place," said council member Ronnie Mason, who suggested allocating an additional $48,000 to the consultants. "Many things are self-implementing."

Council member Larry Smith questioned whether $148,000 was money well-spent considering the tight city budget.

Council member Joe Greco, however, said the department and city will benefit from the firm's continued assistance. "I see it more as an investment than an expenditure," he said.

After much discussion, the council voted unanimously to spend $74,000, or half the amount requested, to implement the recommendations during the next five months.

Staff writer Kathleen Ovack contributed to this report.

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