Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter

CLEARWATER — A recent independent review of the Clearwater Police Department’s policing standards shows the department has not simply ironed out issues inspectors found during the department’s 2016 evaluation.

In fact, the Commission for Law Enforcement Accreditation’s 2019 assessment led to the department’s Excelsior designation, which is given to a police department only after they have been reaccredited with the commission five times.

“Excelsior recognition is the highest honor an agency can receive,” said Lori Mizell, the commission’s executive director.

The road to this year’s designation wasn’t easy, however.

The commission’s 2016 assessment of the Clearwater Police found a lack of documentation with use-of-force reviews; found that unauthorized persons had performed quarterly bookkeeping of cash accounts; that employees outside the unit chain-of-command had audited the accounts, and that someone other than Police Chief Daniel Slaughter had notified accused officers of pending internal investigations.

The 2016 accreditation team, led by Juli Brown of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, characterized the problems as minor, correctable missteps. For instance, use-of-force incidents had been reviewed by the department, but the reviews hadn’t been properly documented. There was no money missing from cash accounts, but someone other than the authorized person had performed the quarterly bookkeeping. It’s not that accused officers hadn’t been notified of pending internal investigations, the problem was that Slaughter hadn’t done the notifying, the accreditation review said.

Slaughter told the Beacon the police department has fixed any issues from the 2016 assessment.

“These funds are now audited on a monthly basis by the agency’s senior accountant, quarterly by the Office of Professional Standards, and annually by the city auditor,” Slaughter said in May.

Notifying employees of pending investigations was fixed by “a small revision to the policy” that allowed someone other than Slaughter to inform employees of upcoming investigations.

When the law enforcement assessment team arrived in April to review the department’s progress since 2016, it found all issues fixed, Brown wrote in the 2019 assessment cover letter.

“Clearwater Police Department is in full compliance with accreditation standards,” Brown wrote. “There were no areas of non-compliance, no corrective actions and non-applicable standards were confirmed.”

The Clearwater Police Department submits to the volunteer evaluation every three years. The two- or three-day review — which gauges how well Slaughter, his fellow officers, and non-uniformed staff comply with more than 200 policing standards — isn’t just a public relations exercise. Inspectors examine issues that are critical to life, health and safety issues, Slaughter said.

A team of assessors from the accreditation commission arrived at the police department’s offices at 645 Pierce St. on April 23 and began reviewing computer printouts, letters from citizens, logs, rosters, evaluations, budget documents, incident reports and other documents in the department’s files.

Assessment teams looked at performance evaluations, records, patrol functions, special operations and traffic and infectious diseases records. They inspected a police training facility at the District Three substation, an evidence storage facility. They questioned officers, observing methods to determine compliance with use-of-force, department policy of investigations, use of confidential informants and other intelligence-gathering, vice and narcotics operations and the handling of misconduct complaints.

The result: The commission found the department 100 percent compliant in 218 standards across the board.

The review helps the department improve, which is a continuous goal, Slaughter said.

“A successful accreditation is not simply pass/fail,” he said. “The assessment often will have some identified improvements that agency can make.”