The department has been reaccredited every three years by the state since 1998, which is unusual in Florida, though there have been recent issues regarding use of force. Adding officers could reduce the crime rate and improve traffic safety. With Clearwater’s violent crime rate exceeding the state average and our property crime rate near average, there’s room for improvement. Current case clearance rates appear acceptable but I would need to assess further if elected. All police are equipped with Narcan to deal with rising opioid overdoses. Officers receive implicit bias training, and a special needs registry has been set up for wandering and mentally ill adults, though it's underutilized. The police appear at neighborhood meetings to provide routine updates and advice, which increases resident trust. Regarding body cameras, there are pros and cons including a mixed record of effectiveness and high cost. Tampa has committed to them, Hillsborough and Pinellas don’t use them. I'd survey the community and if there were significant complaints regarding use of force or harassment I'd use them, otherwise I'd hold off.
(The Clearwater Police Department) is an exceptional department that I believe has stayed ahead on community policing and building trust with our citizens. The staffing has grown since I left in 2012 from a trough of 228 sworn to the current number of 245. The chief and I believe we are properly staffed at this time. We currently do not have body cams and I have mixed feelings about the program. It is somewhat costly even after buying the equipment with an annual operating cost of roughly ($750,000). We have not had the trust issues in our city that many have had and we do not have many complaints over unnecessary force. It is a program I am willing to examine.
A. The Clearwater National Citizens Survey identifies positive percentage rankings for safety in ‘your neighborhood’ during the day of 88 percent positive and Clearwater’s downtown/commercial area during the day of 73 percent. Yet when compared to our benchmarking communities, our rankings were only in the 19th and 16th percentile respectively. These rankings should be explored to determine if additional staffing is needed. B. Several years ago, the chief of police recommended against body cameras in part because of the administrative cost of the video file retention process. That combined with the good community outreach by our officers seemed to support against adding body cameras.
(The Clearwater Police Department) has done a fine job, but I would like to see a little more coverage and making our streets safer is always a plus. We must take care of our police force and enable them to do better. I am a firm believer in transparency and so I support body cameras. I feel they are a very useful tool to also protect our officers in their stressful situations.
For the most part, I have found the Clearwater Police (Department) to be professional and courteous and Chief (Dan) Slaughter to be open and responsive in our dealings with one another. Back in 2000, I produced a video which took a critical look at the police department but times and situations have changed. I understand others may have a very different relationship to the police. I am keenly aware that if I had crossed a street without using a crosswalk, I would not have been searched and handcuffed as was the 16 year-old African-American kid last May. The department needs to constantly work on improving relationships with people in all of our neighborhoods and provide the same level of respect and service to everyone. Staffing is difficult because we compete with larger departments with more resources. Many of our officers and firefighters have to commute from outside the city. We should find a way if not in higher salaries to provide some housing assistance so our emergency responders can live in our neighborhoods. I am generally of the belief that all officers should wear body cameras and they should be kept on. The cameras themselves are cheap but the cost of storing the streaming video and responding to (public records) requests can be large. I believe we need to find out from the people of Clearwater if this is something we need here and if so we should find the money to pay for it.
I think our community is blessed with a very compassionate, dedicated, hard working and professional police department. They are relationship builders before (being) militaristic. Chief (Dan) Slaughter keeps his units fluid as they can quickly adjust to the needs and environments of our community. The need, desire and use of body cameras should come from the recommendation of Chief Slaughter and his identification and presentation of why and how implementation would transpire.
The Clearwater Police Department provides a high level of service to our community particularly in light of our unique tourism challenges and significant elderly population. Public safety is and should continue to be a high priority for the city of Clearwater. The current staffing of the department is adequate if we better involve social services and mental health professionals in addressing individuals that the police officers regularly engage as part of their patrol duties. The city should collaborate better with other organizations and local and state agencies (to) provide long-term services and reduce the need for repeated non-emergency contacts and interventions with the same individuals. Our officers are trained to respond and provide immediate assistance but not the long-term services and help that these residents need. There are advantages and disadvantages to the use of body cameras by law enforcement. I would consider the input and guidance of law enforcement professionals and city legal counsel in considering whether or not to support their use in the city of Clearwater.
My 30 (plus) years of experience with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office allows me to see our police department with a specialist's eyes. I have great respect for (Clearwater Police Chief) Daniel Slaughter and his work to keep our city safe. As a City Council member, I am looking forward to the opportunity to work as a team in keeping and improving our residents safety.
Our first responders are exceptional. We need to provide them with the training and equipment they need. I would like to meet with the police chief to access staffing levels and body camera usage.
In 2019, the Clearwater Police Department received an Excelsior designation (the highest level an agency can receive) from the Commission for Law Enforcement Accreditation. This was after the department’s 2016 evaluation found a number of minor/correctable mistakes. Clearly, the department is willing to take an evaluation and make corrections. This voluntary accreditation process occurs every three years. Last year the commission found the department 100 percent compliant in each of its 218 standards. Being an officer is a difficult and dangerous job. Clearwater is now actively recruiting the best candidates to fill openings on our police force. Our police chief has said that there is great competition to recruit and hire the best candidates. I believe we should be working to increase the number of officers on our force. We are not at prior years’ levels of coverage. I am in favor of having our police officers wear body cameras. Although there are obviously costs associated with their use, and there can be concerns about residents’ privacy related to public access to video, studies show that body cameras boost data and record collection and strengthen community-law enforcement relationships. In fact, in municipalities where they are required, there is nearly always a decrease in citizen complaints against officers. Body-cam recordings most often offer vital proof that officers are acting appropriately within the law and within the reasonable scope of agency policies. And, in many such instances, with great restraint. They can also play a key role in defending officers from false accusations of wrongdoing. And, conversely, body-cams can help identify police officers who abuse their power or act inappropriately.
The police department is doing an admirable job. Staffing appears adequate; body cameras not a bad idea, though I would defer to the chief and the city manager, unless the majority of the council sees it differently. They have a proposal to come before us soon on building an active crime unit, and have the funds to purchase the equipment, and require no additional personnel. Some neighborhoods perhaps could have additional foot patrols and bicycle patrol presence. They appear to have a sensitivity toward residents and businesses — and transients — throughout the city; I hear very few reports which indicate otherwise.
I am very pleased with the performance record of our Clearwater Police Department. Criminal activity has been markedly reduced. Staffing appears to be adequate, and the possibility of body cameras is a question of cost and support from City Council.
I believe the Clearwater Police Department does a great job. The city must continue to support and fund advances to our police department to make sure our community continues to be safe. I’m pround to have the endorsement of the Clearwater Fraternal Order of Police.