CLEARWATER — A Florida panel that reviews the Clearwater Police Department’s operations every three years found in 2016 that the department failed to document its review of use-of-force incidents.
As the police department awaits the results of its 2019 Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation (CFA) review, which took place in April, the Beacon reviewed the results of the department’s last assessment to determine where problems, if any, occurred.
The CFA sends a team of assessors — which include law enforcement professionals from other police departments — to interview the police chief, department heads, street officers, detectives, and non-uniformed employees.
Assessors review computer printouts, police logs, rosters, employee evaluations, budget documents, incident reports, as well as citizen complaints and other documents in the department’s files. The goal: To gauge how well the department complies with approximately 260 policing standards — many of which are critical to life, health and safety issues.
Though the CFA reported in 2016 that the department complied “with 99 percent of mandatory standards and 100 percent of non-mandatory standards,” the assessors found problems with use-of-force reviews and three minor issues:
• Unauthorized persons — other than the person designated — had performed quarterly bookkeeping of cash accounts.
• Policy requiring employees outside the unit chain of command to audit accounts was not followed.
• Though policy requires the police chief to notify accused officers of pending investigations, a different officer was doing so.
The department quickly corrected the accounting issues and at no time did the assessors allege missing money or financial impropriety.
The police chief said the department’s various accounts are closely audited.
“Currently, these funds are 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 told the Beacon.
When it came to employee investigations, Slaughter said “a small revision to the policy was made” that described who actually informed employees of upcoming investigations.
Though CFA assessors called the accounting policy missteps and employee investigation notifications “minor corrective actions,” the 2016 report called the lack of documentation in use of force follow-up “a significant error.”
Follow-up to use-of-force incidents can include a thorough departmental analysis of what occurred — by debriefing the officer that exercised force, reviewing dash camera videos, evaluating the officer’s incident report, and interviewing other officers who witnessed the incident. Departments can then recommend changes or corrections to their own training or the officer’s methods to improve de-escalation and other skills as necessary, the CFA said.
Police officers are expected to use force in their jobs when appropriate to subdue suspects or to protect themselves and others.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police recommends departments gather use-of-force data within their own departments and “use that data to conduct annual use of force reviews that can influence policy and training enhancement.”
Many police departments require officers to file Threat, Resistance, or Injury forms each time they use force. A 2009 Efficiency Study of the Clearwater Police Department by Matrix Consulting Group indicated the department’s training sergeants investigated all incidents involving use of force by officers, while the Lieutenant of Professional Standards gave commanders monthly status reports that included “Response to Resistance” reports.
The Clearwater Police Department “immediately sought to remedy their failure” to document use of force reviews by completing a documented analysis of use of force for one year, the 2016 CFA report said.
“While the report was completed annually, it did not thoroughly document every item that is required by the accreditation standard,” Slaughter said. “While the assessors were still on-site, the agency completed the required documentation.”
The department also promised to produce a detailed, annual analysis of use-of-force incidents, complete with policy recommendations when appropriate.
The assessment team believed the failure to document use of force reviews was “inadvertent” and not the result of improper actions or indifferent decisions.
The regular reviews and critiques of the Clearwater Police Department help the department stay on the ball, Slaughter said.
“The agency has the position that the purpose of the accreditation process is to find ways for the agency to improve,” he said.