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    Letters to the Editors

    Treat police with dignity and respect

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 24, 2002

    Re: What would make police union and its membership happy? by Philip Gailey, Feb. 17.

    There is the real world of police work; then there is the world of police work according to Philip Gailey. As one might expect, we do not agree with most of what you have written, and you have struck a nerve with the hard-working police officers in St. Petersburg. It's obvious you don't do your homework before writing such damning opinions.

    Suggesting a relationship between the level of salary and benefits police officers should earn and the number of officer deaths occurring in the city or county where they work is not only repulsive and offensive but truly demonstrative of someone who has very little knowledge or understanding of what police officers do.

    We may not have a large number of officers killed in the line of duty (thank God), but have you examined the alarming number of police officer suicides experienced in St. Petersburg, and asked why? With support like this, Mr. Gailey, you can expect that many more good police officers will depart for friendlier territories.

    You talk about what's going on in Miami with police corruption and criminal acts by the police, and say that St. Petersburg has no such problems. Quite the contrary. If you would take a look around, you would discover a similar, unstable transient Police Department where such activity can and will occur. Just ask the policing experts. When you do nothing to retain the best and the brightest, then you are forced to hire people just to get bodies to fill those green and white police cruisers.

    You need to be set straight about your comparison of police officers with other city employees. Frankly, the job of a police officer is like no other job in the city, which includes our friends and brothers the firefighters. In addition to the normal law enforcement duties your cops perform, they handle everything else that other city employees don't or won't handle, whether it's law enforcement related or not. In other words, when all else fails, call the Police Department, because we will come.

    There is just not enough space for a thorough response about the city's so-called generous pay and benefit package that has taken almost 10 grueling months to negotiate. But if you want to talk about this in more detail, Mr. Gailey, we are available to meet with you any time, any place. We think you might be enlightened by the information provided but seriously doubt you would change your opinion.

    Finally, you ask what is it the police union and its members really want? It's very simple. We want to be treated by our employer with the same dignity and respect that is expected of us with our treatment of the citizenry. Is this too much to ask? We think not.
    -- J.W. "Jack" Soule, president, Pinellas County Police Benevolent Association, Inc. Clearwater

    Support is missing

    Re: What would make the police union and its members happy?

    I am the wife of a St. Petersburg police officer. Living day in and day out with the trials and tribulations of my husband's job, I feel more than qualified to inform you as to what the officers want in these contract negotiations.

    This city has experienced an economic boom over the last decade that could rival any in its history. The firefighters and police officers of this city have been left behind during this economic boom. Their pay and benefits do not come close to those of the departments in Tampa, Hillsborough or even Pinellas Park.

    The package is the most lucrative offered by the city over the last 16 years, as the mayor has boasted. But when compared to pay freezes and raises of 3 percent and less, it is easy to say that with a straight face.

    Many of the officers voted against the current contract for the reasons of pension enhancements. Why should officers who have served their time be held hostage for another 2 years, to get the 75 percent pension enhancement, because the city is too shortsighted to have hired the people necessary to fill the void potential retirements would leave?

    I find it interesting that the city only mentions a budget deficit during contract negotiations. There was no mention of a budget deficit when the mayor proposed spending $5.5-million on a city park on Lake Maggiore. The mayor did not mention how many more millions will have to be spent to build new training facilities for both the fire and police departments that already exist there.

    The seeds of low morale were not sown during the Davis administration. They were, however, fertilized there. When the number of narcotics officers are decreased, you can only inevitably have a reduction in drug arrests. That is clearly shown in the 20 percent reduction in narcotics-related arrests. Do not be fooled into believing this statistic is because of the reduction of drugs in general.

    When employees are not given the resources or backing to do their job, then the morale of those employees can only plummet.
    -- Erin Charlton, St. Petersburg

    Rock bottom morale

    Re: What would make police union and its members happy?

    I am tired of hearing how the St. Petersburg police officers are not happy with the chief of police and so we are whining and crying. That is not true. With Chief Chuck Harmon, the officers of the St. Petersburg Police Department finally have a chief who is one of their own, someone who has worked alongside us for 20 years and worked his way up through the chain of command (not going from patrol officer to deputy chief in one move).

    The morale problems in our department have hit rock bottom for several reasons. One of the biggest problems is the fact that we are not allowed to enforce the law to the best of our ability. This started several years ago with severe restrictions in policy and procedure. We were, and are, able to work within the system, though, and do our job.

    The second big reason is the back-breaker. Progressively, starting with Chief Darrel Stephens, the officers of our department are subjected to discipline procedures that clearly send the message that if someone complains, regardless of who or what the complaint is about, the department will prolong the investigation until it finds something, no matter how small or insignificant, to discipline you on. We have seen a time come when drug dealers and known thugs come to the police station to complain, and their word is stronger than ours. We are automatically guilty until we prove ourselves innocent. That kind of activity has caused the officers of this department to take a hands-off approach to police work because we are not supported by the administration. The thugs in this city know this and are taking full advantage.

    I was hired by the city as a police officer in 1990. At that time, police officers were respected. Now we are laughed at not only by other law enforcement agencies, but by the thugs as well. Everybody and his brother knows that if you come to St. Petersburg, you can commit almost any type of crime you want and all you have to do is get in a car and drive away because we can't stop you.

    Lastly, it is obvious that you don't know when the last St. Petersburg police officer was killed in the line of duty. What I personally know is that Herbert Sullivan was killed on Aug. 18, 1980. He was a vice and narcotics detective. He was shot in the chest by Sammie Mathis while in the parking lot of the now abandoned hotel on 54 Avenue N and I-275.

    Of what significance is a "body count" of officers here compared to other agencies? None. The only reason a St. Petersburg police officer has not been killed in the line of duty comes down to one factor: blind luck.
    -- George Lofton, St. Petersburg

    A tired partisan line

    Your editorial articles, including your front-page assault on Feb. 17 (Bush oversells his spending on schools), display an incredible lack of proportion regarding Gov. Jeb Bush. Instead of repeating the age old Democratic Party line of "he isn't spending enough," perhaps you should consider this: The governor has managed to accommodate 168,400 new students and inflation (by your calculations), in a time of decreasing state revenues and added expenses in response to terrorism, and still managed a small increase in the per student spending on education. If he were a Democrat, that would have been hailed as great management in a stressful situation. Because he is a Republican, all you can say is: "It's not enough."
    -- Jim Frishe, St. Petersburg

    Bush realism applauded

    It is not the role of government to consume more and more of the income of an already overtaxed citizenry.

    Insofar as the education debacle is concerned, my exorbitant education tax bill increases yearly, and for what? We incessantly pour good money after bad, and the results are abominable.

    Let's put the numbers to it. Last year our cost-per-student was $5,329 -- a frightening number. In a class of 30 pupils, that's $159,870 per classroom. If a teacher is paid $35,000, there is a balance of $124,870 for that one class. Multiply this number tenfold, 20-fold or 100-fold, and we have some serious money. Where is it being spent?

    Let the tax-and-spenders come up with a positive cause and we'll see an acceptable effect. It is much easier to pass their incompetence off on us taxpayers than to develop constructive programs that have merit. For this reason, I applaud and support the realistic attempts offered by Gov. Jeb Bush.
    -- Hal Meyer, Treasure Island

    A collective nakedness

    Thanks to the Times' insightful analysis of Gov. Jeb Bush's 2003 budget we now know that the "emperor has no clothes"! However, the emperor is not alone in his nakedness. The present collective membership of the state Legislature also shares this honor, as do the memberships of past legislatures -- controlled at different times by both political parties -- going back to the mid-1980s.

    Why then? That was the last honest move to improve education in Florida with a change from a 6-period to a 7-period class day in public education, with the improvement of the University of Florida to a high ranking in national standings and, most important, the use of 62-63 percent of the general revenue funds to accomplish these and other educational goals.

    Since then has come a steady decrease in funding to a 56 percent share of general revenue funds in the present budget, as the Times points out. There has been an increase in the students-teacher ratio in public education from 100/1 to 150/1 on average. A real cheap fix was the "dumbing down" of the grading scale to generate a higher graduation rate when less money failed to accomplish this goal. This list goes on and on.

    Finally, the most devastating result of this collective nakedness has been the drop in standing of Florida education within the national comparative charts of every criteria of measurement of state-by-state quality of education.

    Every day for the last 16 years I have put on my clothes, instructed my students in the IB program and watched virtually 100 percent of them go on to college. I was successful because of the clients I served -- not because of any additional help in any form I received from the governors or the Legislatures, past and present.

    The one comforting thought is that I do have on my clothes each day that I am a public servant.
    -- Dr. Wallace F. Witham, teacher, Belleair Bluffs

    Truth needs to be heard

    Re: Bush oversells his spending on schools.

    I commend you on finally getting the truth about education funding out in the open. This article sheds some light on exactly why 1,500-plus teachers went to Tallahassee on Feb. 5 to demand the truth. Gov. Jeb Bush is not telling the truth.

    What Gov. Bush is doing to education funding is definitely a shell game. We have a hiring freeze, loss of training and no summer school in Pinellas County. If we were receiving historic amounts as he claims, the above would not be true. Please continue to keep this issue out in the open. We need the public to hear the truth.
    -- Lisa Neveitt, first-grade teacher, Gulf Beaches Elementary, Pinellas Park

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