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Officer had traffic lights rigged

Documents cast light on the conduct of a Tampa police sergeant under review for his squad's behavior.

Published March 9, 2006

TAMPA - Police Sgt. Gene Strickland is waiting to hear what discipline he could face in recent internal affairs investigations calling into question his conduct and leadership.

Documents released this week by the Tampa Police Department show that his decisions as a squad leader have drawn other criticism.

In a May 2005 memo, Strickland told his supervisors that he had directed his squad to manipulate traffic signals at three Tampa Heights intersections with a traffic control device called a "pickle" that allows the user to dictate how long a light stays red.

The operation took place on four or five occasions stretching back to 2004, he said.

Officers kept the stoplights at each intersection red long enough for them to check the license plates of cars and see if they were stolen.

He said he hoped the method of checking tags on stopped cars would allow officers to "box in" the cars and "to negate the probability of vehicular pursuits of stolen cars."

Department officials said the tactic netted no stolen cars. More important, his bosses weren't pleased with his methods.

"In the police business, you have to have a reason to stop somebody," said Chief Steve Hogue. "When you keep somebody at a traffic light beyond the normal cycle of it, then you're essentially detaining that person."

In his memo, Strickland wrote that he usually employed the practice late at night, during light traffic flow. The three intersections he cited: Scott Street at Nebraska Avenue, North Boulevard at Ross Avenue and Florida Avenue at Indiana Street.

Strickland, 49, has had his conduct as a leader questioned again in the months since.

In February, an internal affairs investigation upheld allegations against three other officers who were found to have violated the department's code of conduct and its policy against sexual harassment.

That same investigation found that Strickland, the squad leader and a 25-year department veteran, "never intervened or disciplined the offenders properly," according to the investigation. Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy called it "a very low moment for TPD."

Days later, another inquiry found that Strickland and Cpl. David Watt should have intervened on a traffic stop during which several officers traded curses and insults with a 23-year-old man after pulling him from his car when he refused to sign three citations. The man was also stunned with a Taser, all while hundreds of Ybor City patrons watched.

Another recent IA investigation also found that while Watt was justified in shooting at a 45-year-old man during an undercover drug buy with Strickland in December 2004, the officers were at fault for using guns not authorized by the department.

In his first five years, Strickland received 14 commendations, two minor disciplinary actions and outstanding to above-average ratings on evaluations.

Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said Strickland has been placed on desk duty while awaiting the conclusion of the disciplinary process. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

[Last modified March 9, 2006, 02:45:12]

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