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Conflicts in office await new police chief

David Romine says the department's internal complaints are high, compared to other police departments.

By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 4, 2002

ST. PETE BEACH -- David Romine spent much of his first two days as police chief in his office, behind a desk, getting to know his new job.

Romine says sticking around the office really isn't his style. Indeed, City Manager Mike Bonfield hired Romine partly because the chief is known for getting involved with his community.

"Nobody gets into police work," Romine said Tuesday, "because they like to shuffle papers."

But inside the police department is exactly where much of Romine's attention will be devoted in the coming weeks as he tries to decisively sort out the internal conflicts that have plagued the department of 31 sworn officers in recent years. He says he already has a good feel for the department's history and the turmoil that led to the problems it faces today.

"I think this is a talent-rich agency," Romine said during an interview on his second day as police chief, "and I think there are a few personality issues I need to address."

He declined to discuss those issues specifically, saying he has several unresolved complaints on his desk that officers have filed against each other. He acknowledged that the department has a high number of internal complaints compared to what he has seen at other agencies.

Romine is no stranger to internal strife within a police department, a fact that made his arrival in St. Pete Beach challenging. When he was a finalist for the chief's job, a police department employee placed a newspaper article about Romine's resignation as chief of the Winter Haven Police Department in the mailbox of Bob Babineau, an independent consultant who served as temporary police chief this fall and helped choose his permanent replacement.

And when Babineau asked department employees for their feedback about the finalists, Sgt. Phil Riles, a union representative, e-mailed him to endorse another candidate.

"As I explained to you in person, (Fraternal Order of Police official) Tim Ingold and I are concerned with Romine, who appears to have had management problems that this agency is attempting to get rid of," Riles wrote. "While talking with him he appeared very nervous and not very comfortable talking about his past."

The last year of Romine's 41/2-year tenure in Winter Haven was unpleasant, and his departure unceremonious.

He resigned in July because the city manager gave him a choice between resigning and being fired. Romine was the third department head to leave Winter Haven since City Manager Dave Greene's arrival one year earlier.

Reached Tuesday, Greene called Romine "a very good man" who will "do an outstanding job" in St. Pete Beach.

"It was just time for a change of leadership in the Winter Haven Police Department," Greene said. "(Romine) was dealing with a number of disciplinary issues and a number of internal affairs investigations concerning conduct or alleged conduct of officers."

The misconduct officers were accused of in Romine's department included:

-- Two officers who fought in a drunken, public brawl last year. According to news reports, the fight began after one officer caught her husband, another officer, making advances toward her sister. Both officers were fired.

-- Two sergeants were reprimanded after one had sex with a female officer while the other sergeant was in the room.

The city manager later downgraded the punishment to written counseling, according to news reports.

-- Shortly before Romine left the department, one of his officers was accused of using unnecessary force while arresting a Lake Wales resident.

Romine said he dealt quickly with that incident, suspending the officer immediately after seeing a videotape of the beating.

The resident has sued the city and the officer, who has since resigned from the Winter Haven Police Department. The man's lawyer has told The Ledger of Lakeland that he also plans to sue Romine, who was chief of the department when the incident took place.

Romine also was sued while serving as interim chief of the South Miami Police Department, where he spent 20 years before joining Winter Haven. He was sued in a sexual harassment suit because he was managing the department when some of the alleged abuses took place.

The suit was settled, and Romine did not personally pay any penalties.

Romine also was disciplined in Winter Haven for his behavior following a traffic accident. A motorist ran a red light and hit Romine, who was driving a city-owned vehicle. He realized he had left his identification at the police station, so he told an officer to bring him his wallet.

Romine was told in disciplinary counseling that his behavior suggested he was trying to conceal information, according to The Ledger.

Bonfield, who hired Romine, said he was familiar with all the incidents, but the city did its homework in checking out the background of its police chief candidates. "We scoured the newspapers," Bonfield told a reporter, "just like you did."

Bob Chambers, a consultant hired to help locate a new police chief, even spent a day in Winter Haven talking to people, including Romine's former employees.

"I think it appeared to be a situation where he came in from outside the organization and, from what I understand, there were long-term people in the department who might not have accepted him because he did not come from within the organization," Bonfield said.

Couldn't Romine face a similar situation in St. Pete Beach?

"Any time you have this many long-term people, there's history in the department and always differences between people," Bonfield said. "I don't know if anything that goes on in St. Pete Beach is much different than what goes on in any department."

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