Scientology gets no special favors from Clearwater police, chief says

Our hope in the Clearwater Police Department is that anyone reading this will recognize that we don’t get to pick and choose who we protect and serve, nor should we.
The Church of Scientology’s Flag Building is in downtown Clearwater. [Times file photo by James Borchuck]
The Church of Scientology’s Flag Building is in downtown Clearwater. [Times file photo by James Borchuck]
Published February 4
Updated February 5

For years the Clearwater Police Department has been thrust into the middle of a debate between a controversial religion and its critics, without a voice in the matter. We feel it important to publish some facts of our own to provide the city we serve and anyone else who may be interested with some perspective.

The Clearwater Police Department was established in 1915 and currently serves a 31-square-mile community of 115,000 people. This base population increases regularly due to a tremendous influx of visitors and tourists. We serve our community and visitors with a dedicated staff of 245 sworn officers and 128 civilian employees.

Scientology’s hub of activity is in a portion of the downtown corridor occupying approximately half a square mile. None of our on-duty officers are assigned to or stationed at Scientology property.

The Clearwater Police Department received over 78,319 calls for service in 2018 with approximately 109 or 0.1 percent of those calls originating from Scientology staff or security.

The Police Department’s funding is derived from the ad valorem (property) taxes. Any ad valorem taxes collected from any taxable properties owned by Scientology are co-mingled with all collected ad valorem taxes and disseminated to multiple government entities and multiple city departments.

Consistent with other law enforcement organizations, the Clearwater Police Department has an extra-duty program to provide off-duty officers to a wide variety of businesses and religious entities. These programs are not funded by taxpayers, and most important, do not draw from the on-duty resources paid for by the taxpayers. All officers serving in an extra-duty capacity are bound by oath to remain impartial and operate under the policies and procedures of the Clearwater Police Department. Regardless of who pays the bill, the extra-duty officers work for me.

The total billed to all organizations using off-duty officers through the extra-duty program including recognized religious entities was approximately $790,127.50 in fiscal 2018. Scientology extra-duty accounted for approximately $26,740 or 3.4 percent of the total.

Scientology being a recognized religious entity is entitled to contract for the same services as any other religious entity or business. The Police Department does not have the latitude to cease providing extra-duty services to one religious entity without denying the same services to all recognized religious entities. If you believe your law enforcement organizations should be bound by the Constitution, as we should be, then you must agree we do not get to pick and choose which religious entities get access to services.

The Clearwater Police Department has, and will continue, to investigate all crimes, without passion or prejudice, regardless of who the victim or suspect is. Many examples of this are evident in our history.

Law enforcement officers throughout the country swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, to include the First Amendment covering freedom of religion. Clearwater Police Officers swear to do the same. Our hope is that anyone reading this will recognize that we don’t get to pick and choose who we protect and serve, nor should we. We are bound by the Constitution to answer all calls for service and deliver those services in a fair and impartial manner.

Our officers are human beings who work a hazardous job that exposes them to human tragedy on a regular basis. The mere suggestion that our officers exist to serve Scientology is patently false and an affront to them and the great community we serve. To see them criticized and vilified for trying their best to interpret complex legal orders, confusing complaints, and mediate disputes between the constitutionally protected activities of religion, speech, and assembly is not only unfair but done in the absence of perspective. Hopefully, we’ve provided some today.

Daniel Slaughter is the chief of the Clearwater Police Department.

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