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Clearwater police officers air their complaints on Web site

Insights into Clearwater police union business and the opinions some officers have of their department are now available online.

The Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 10, the union representative of Clearwater's officers, recently launched a Web site. Included on the site is The Blackwater Sun, in which union officers write about union business and their opinions about the department.

The Blackwater Sun has been a union publication for years, but with the Internet site, it is now available to anyone who goes there.

Letters by union president T.J. Donnelly and second vice president Jeff Rawson indicate that morale among officers at the department is sagging.

"We had hoped that the Department would do more to improve morale, but it is the opinion of many that this has not been the case," Donnelly wrote. "As a result, you will be seeing and hearing about your lodge taking a considerably more aggressive posture when it comes to making our position known."

Rawson's letter is critical of department management on several issues, including the agency's requirements that officers document whenever they use force, the purchase of a large command bus and deployment of officers and volunteers for spring break.

Rawson writes: "Morale is undoubtedly at an extremely low point, and does not seem to be improving. There doesn't appear to be any quick-fix available, and no reason to think that it will improve in the not too distant future."

Police Chief Sid Klein would not comment on the Web site or the letters published there.

"He doesn't comment on union stuff," said Wayne Shelor, the department's spokesman.

Rawson also declined to talk about the site. His letter was on the site for a while, but later was pulled from the site without explanation.

Rawson writes in his letter that he has heard rumors of officers preparing to leave for the Tampa Police Department.

Joe Walker, supervisor of background investigations for the city of Tampa, said he hasn't noticed a rush of Clearwater officers applying recently.

"I can certainly understand a young, aggressive officer wanting to go to a larger city where there is more work and better benefits," Rawson wrote. "I can also understand most officers' frustration with the restrictions placed upon the officers here in Clearwater. We cannot chase criminals, in fact, we must turn around, tuck our tails and go the other way in most cases. We also have to document, via a defensive tactics form, almost every instance where we even touch some scumbag."

Rawson also says other local agencies have raised pay and benefits for their officers, while Clearwater officers "consistently have been giving back benefits just so we can see some modest raises, at best."

Of the 15 county police agencies, Clearwater has the fourth-highest minimum salary and the second-highest maximum salary for officers, according to figures from the Pinellas Police Standards Council.

Rawson also criticizes the department for buying a large command bus in the past year. Calling it the "copabago," he writes that "this appears to be a huge misstep by the police administration. It would appear that alot of money has been wasted for no good reason!" He also calls it a "dog and pony show on wheels and a huge waste of the taxpayers' money."

Though Shelor, the department spokesman, declined to offer any opinions about statements made by officers in The Blackwater Sun, he did provide facts about the bus when asked.

Shelor said the bus was largely paid for by grants and capital improvement funds. He said the bus is frequently used for community outreach events. Equipped with radios, computers and meeting space, the vehicle can be used at major crime scenes.

On Friday, it was parked on Clearwater Beach to help beach patrols during spring break.

Foreseeing that deployment in his letter, Rawson wrote: "I guess it has to be used for something!"

Rawson also criticizes parking rules, saying a group of officers had been told they couldn't park on the first and second levels of the employee parking lot.

"Are we no longer city employees, or are we considered to be a lesser class of city employees by those liberal do-gooders over at M.S.B. (municipal services) who look down their noses at us brutal thugs with guns and nightsticks?

"Maybe someone in the command staff will stand up to the idiots that run the parking garage and convince them to stop treating us like second-class citizens," he wrote.

Rawson's complaints go to City Hall in regard to Police Department funding. He calls an assistant city manager and others "overpaid, incompetent bean counters."

He wrote: "It continually amazes me that the city will cut money from the Police Department's budget to pay for things like palm trees and flowers . . . what kind of city government is this? Can anybody tell me?

"Try to keep your chins up, maybe someone will listen and realize that morale is pretty much in the crapper," he wrote. "Stay safe and look out for each other . . ."

Not every officer complains on the site.

For instance, Chaplain William Connell Jr. has a letter that tells members of upcoming police memorials. He also includes a poem called The Thin Blue Line, which is about the dangers police face on the beat and their dedication to helping others.

The site also tells members of upcoming events, has links to other police-related sites and will display information about officers of the month.

Donnelly writes in his report that The Blackwater Sun has gone to the Web so union officials can get information to members more quickly.

He updates members on pension information, tells them about a Fraternal Order of Police state board meeting he attended in Fort Lauderdale and praises the success of the union awards banquet in January.

Donnelly could not be reached for comment.

_ Chris Tisch can be reached at 445-4156 or tischsptimes.com.

On the Web

The Fraternal Order of Police,

Lodge 10's Web site is www.fop10clearwater.org.

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