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Voices strong: Keep police

Traveling on Main Street to City Hall on Thursday night was like watching a movie a second time.

The banners, the T-shirts, the bumper stickers and the posters, with about 50 police supporters behind them, were outside _ much like a scene this summer.

Although it wasn't on Thursday's agenda, a city manager-appointed task force's 215-page-report that analyzes the sheriff's proposal to take over the police department had stirred and brought out the community to protest to city commissioners.

Inside, up to 75 police supporters crammed City Hall to hear about a dozen speakers either slam the report or simply tell commissioners they were satisfied with the small-town feel the police fostered. Others said they would pay a higher price for the police.

"Why have we wasted the taxpayers' money on a farce?" resident Veronica Laskowski asked. "This analysis is the most professional snow-job I have ever seen.

"The four-year expense forecast, where we stand to save in excess of $7-million if we switch to the sheriff's office, is a hoax," she said.

Henri Jansen, membership director for the Citizens Coalition of Dunedin, a new government watchdog group that was founded based on the police issue, told commissioners that they should listen to the people. About 8,000 residents have signed a petition in favor of keeping the police department.

"I'd like to explain the definition of the word democracy. It is a government in which the supreme power is held by the people," said Jansen, whose 30-member group is pro-police.

Two weeks ago, the task force gave its first report.

Among other things, the report estimates that the city could save from $4.6-million to $7.3-million during the next four years by hiring the Sheriff's Office. The sheriff would provide 41 deputies and 23 civilians. The police department has 54 officers and 38 civilians.

The report says that the first year of Sheriff's Office takeover would cost the city about $3-million, which includes a $738,540 start-up cost. It also would cost $816,907 to disband the police department. Keeping the police department would cost $4.3-million for that year.

Most of the police supporters left the meeting immediately after public comment ceased. Several commissioners spoke about residents' concerns.

Commissioner Jack St. Arnold said that although the report shows that 41 deputies would serve the city, that is flexible.

"That's a number that is not set in concrete," St. Arnold said. "(If) we need more, if that be the case, that can be done."

Commissioner Tom Osborne said the Pinellas County Police Benevolent Association had frightened residents into supporting the police department by convincing them that services such as the Neighborhood Watch and school resource officers would end if the Sheriff's Office takes over.

"They've scared the hell out of the people," Osborne said after the meeting. He said it was his belief that the PBA had sponsored opposition on the issue on behalf of union police members.

Said Osborne: "I think the commissioners' decision should be based on facts and not fears."

GET YOUR

OWN REPORT

Copies of a summary report on the Dunedin Police Department can be picked up at City Hall, the police department and the library. Written comments will be accepted through Oct. 27 and can be sent to City Hall, 542 Main St. A final report will be released Nov. 10 and a public hearing will likely follow at a later date. Call 733-8804 for information on the Citizens Coalition of Dunedin.

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