published: Friday, December 07, 2012
City cops welcome new start
ROXANNE BROWN | Staff Writer
With a new interim police chief being overseen by a new city manager, and plans on the drawing board for new police station, this embattled department is hoping for a fresh start.
An evaluation is under way to pinpoint past and present areas of concern, and the officers themselves are working to create a more positive image as the start of a new year looms.
"To be successful, there has to be a bond between the city's police department and the community," said Interim Chief Chuck Broadway, who has held the post since July. "There has to be a collaborative effort to deter and fight crime, address issues as they arise and enhance the quality of life for everybody. That's how we'll become effective."
The mindset is "a breath of fresh air" to many and comes after a long year of accusations clouding the department and its day-to-day dealings within the community by six former officers who allege they were wrongfully terminated amid corruption and wrongdoing for years under the leadership of former City Manager Wayne Saunders and Former Police Chief Steve Graham.
Since then, Saunders and Graham have both retired voluntarily.
Today, new City Manager Darren Gray and Broadway are working on building a new beginning and creating a more positive vision for the city.
To do that, an assessment of the department by The International Association of Chiefs of Police -- an outside agency made up of retired police officers who have reviewed procedural and management issues at police departments across the nation -- has been approved by City Council members to pinpoint problems or areas that need attention.
"What we all agreed upon is the need for an evaluation of the police department to close the chapter to any allegations that have come up in the past," Gray said. "Also, it will give us a tool as we move forward, as far as what things we need to work on."
Gray said anyone with criminal complaints should make an appointment with him to discuss the possibility of getting the Florida Department of Justice or other appropriate agencies involved.
Broadway has also focused his energy on raising morale within the department and getting his officers involved within the community.
According to many community leaders and residents, Broadway's efforts and the work of his officers, have not gone unnoticed.
"When Chief Broadway was still a captain with the Police Department, he was wonderful. Then, when I found out he'd been appointed as the Police Chief (interim) for Clermont, I was very happy about it," said longtime resident Betty Beebe. "He (Broadway) is dedicated and gives 100 percent of himself to the community and to his job, and you can tell.
"Since he's taken over, I've been happy to see police officers out in the community when we hardly ever used to see them before. That's very important, too, because Clermont is growing and their presence, under such great leadership, is very important."
Broadway wants his officers to have a lot of visibility throughout the city's five "zones" where they are assigned. He's even begun a task force that involves officers speaking at Homeowner's Association Meetings whenever possible as an outlet for residents to inform them of incidents or voice any concerns they may have for officers to follow up on.
"The very officers assigned to a certain zone, will be the ones hearing and learning about these areas and the people who live there will get accustomed to seeing and working with those officers," Broadway said.
In his eyes, Gray said, Broadway and his officers are doing an exceptional job. When it comes time to pick a permanent chief, Gray said Broadway will be considered.
"He'll be a lead contender," Gray said. "But really, the entire department is doing a great job. They are out in the community and I'm really proud of them, I wholeheartedly support them and I am eager to work side by side with them as we move forward for good."
Broadway said his ultimate goal is to be appointed chief, but in the meantime, he will continue to work hard on a complete turnaround within the department.
Lots of new things
Most recently, the focus has been on the design phase of a new police department. At the last council meeting, the design was introduced by architects.
"We are so excited about the new building," Broadway said. "It's much bigger, it has much more parking, and it is being designed to support the department now and in the future as the city grows. It's geared toward our future and to meet the requirements of our department now and 10 to 15 years from now. Our officers spend a lot of time at the department and this new building will make a big difference for everyone."
As for efforts to integrate the police department within the community, Broadway has also started a Facebook page where residents can look for updates on past and future events the departments is involved with, as well as updates on incidents and crime trends around the city.
The department has also purchased a software program called "CrimeReports," a web-based crime anaysis tool where the department is able to track crime data by visualization, charts, diagrams and maps.
The software, Broadway said, will allow him to track crimes that have occurred and keep tabs of sexual predators in the area.
"It is a benefit to us as an agency, so we can effectively address crime trends, but it also gives an opportunity for citizens to become more involved, because they will be able to log onto their computers, and access and view basic information about crimes and whatever information is allowable for release through this software," Broadway said.
Broadway is also focusing heavily on visibility of his officers around town by beefing up patrols in many areas and neighborhoods.
In January, he will instate a police reserves program, utilizing sworn police officers where are looking to serve the community. The reserves program, also utilized by the Lake County Sheriff's Office, will allow retired, but sworn officers to be hired by the department and serve for no pay, in order to fill in gaps and allow paid officers to do more in the community as well.
"They will fill in manpower on the streets as my plan is to have them walking the beat in certain communities and shopping plazas," Broadway said. "There are certified police officers, sworn police officers, who want to maintain their police standards by staying active with our department."
In addition, Broadway has stepped up the department's involvement within the community.
That includes attending as many events as possible as they occur around town, and becoming more involved with efforts of organizations, business and individuals trying to make a difference for the community.
Broadway himself makes it a point to run any 5K events and can be seen walking up and down the streets of downtown Clermont any chance he gets.
Broadway has also activated an open-door policy, inviting members of the community to make an appointment to visit with him anytime if they feel the need to do so to discuss issues, ask questions or make suggestions.
Miracle men and women
Involved in the South Lake Rotary Club, Broadway also became aware of "The Miracle League," a baseball league in town designed to give physically and mentally challenged children and adults the opportunity to play ball with others on a special field designed for people with disabilities.
Betty Beebe, who is a Miracle League Advisor, said she spoke to the Rotary about the league and was immediately approached by Broadway about his and his department's interest in becoming involved to help the children.
Sgt. Rene Castro then took the initiative and spearheaded the involvement of other officers every weekend and scheduled police officers, police explorers and members from the Clermont Fire Department to attend games, practices and buddy up with the athletes.
"He (Broadway) very eager and came right up to me. He volunteered his service and that of his officers," Beebe said. "The kids just loved them immediately when they came the first time and the next week and every week after that, the kids were looking for them, divvying up who they each wanted to work with.
"No matter what these kids ask, the police officers to do, they go out of their way to do and it's awesome that they can give of themselves like that to our little organization."
Beebe said the effort is not only good for the kids and their cop companions, but the department as a whole because "it opens people's eyes and lets them see that they're human. You can see the smiles on the police officer's faces and see that they are enjoying what they are doing out there as much as these kids are," Beebe said.
In house, Broadway has also implemented many new procedures to ensure that morale, productivity and confidence within the department remains high.
To do that, Broadway holds "vertical meetings" between him and every officer with no supervisors present, allowing the officers to feel comfortable about raising any concerns they have.
Gray, upon his arrival last month, also met with every staff member individually, giving each officer the opportunity to open up the same way.
Broadway also brought in a police chaplain for the department, whose role is that of a spiritual advisor and counselor. Broadway said the chaplain is also a resource and referral to the community to assist in time of crisis.
In addition, Broadway's plans include recognizing and rewarding employees and officers periodically throughout the year, and naming "officers of the quarter," as well as "officer of the year" and "supervisor of the year." They will be publicly recognized at City Council meetings.
Broadway said he looks forward to the future of the department and working closely with Gray to move it forward.
"Our city manager is truly a visionary and an innovator," Broadway said. "He is the reflection of a person that is out in the community for its best interest, and I'm taking many queues from his example as far as transparency and in assuring the community that we are here to maintain the public's trust."
"I think we're well on our way to a bright future in this community."