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Survey finds police discontent

Nearly all officers say the department is understaffed, but there are positives in the study.

By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published May 19, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - The vast majority of city police officers say their department doesn't have enough people to do the job, according to a consultant's survey.

Eighty-five percent of those polled said the department is inadequately staffed. Fifty-eight percent said they were dissatisfied with the department's work environment. And 66 percent said the department doesn't provide consistent service to parts of the city.

The survey results were included in a draft copy of Matrix Consulting Group's study of the department, released Friday. Matrix got 503 surveys back from 746 employees. The City Council hired the consultant.

But while the survey shows that many within the department -- especially officers who patrol the streets -- are not happy, the rest of the study offers a mixed picture of the department. The study as a whole does not offer a definitive verdict on the department's status or a road map for improvements.

The consultants praise some decisions, such as recent changes to community policing. But they also say other factors, including a high attrition rate, need to be addressed.

Chief Chuck Harmon said he believes the study validates many of the department's practices, but shows the need to improve in certain areas. After the study is final, Harmon said he plans to gather a group to talk about the issues it raises.

"As a whole organization, we're going to have to do a better job of communication," Harmon said. "Some of the data didn't support some of the perceptions."

Union officials said the survey results confirm what they have long known: Many of the city's police officers are not happy.

"The officers would know whether there's enough officers out there," said Mark Deasaro, the president of the Police Benevolent Association of Pinellas County. "They know how long they're waiting on calls and they know how long it takes for backup."

Sgt. Phil Quandt, a Fraternal Order of Police representative, said the survey results from the officers offered "a pretty honest perspective."

The report's release comes at an unusual time. On Wednesday, Council of Neighborhood Associations leaders voted 13-3 to send a letter to the City Council asking them to consider consolidating the Police Department into the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to save money.

Barbara Heck, the president of the group, who did not vote, said the vote was on a very narrow issue and said her organization supports the department.

City Council member Earnest Williams said he didn't see the need for any consolidation.

"That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me," Williams said. "We have a great police department."

In some ways, the survey results contradict other findings of the study. While nearly all officers say the department is understaffed, the Matrix study says there are enough officers for the department to do enough "proactive" police work.

Mayor Rick Baker said the study was very positive overall, but said survey results may have been skewed because it had been done close to the department's big changes to community policing.

"We're going to study it," he said. "There's always room to improve, even when you have a great police department."

The City Council will discuss the report May 31 during a Budget, Finance and Taxation Subcommittee meeting.

Times staff writer Aaron Sharockman contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or 727 893-8472.

Fast Facts:

 

Key Findings

Statement: "The department provides high levels of law enforcement to the communities it serves."

43 percent of employees disagree or strongly disagree. 42 percent agree or strongly agree.

Statement: "The department provides a consistent level of service to areas of the city."

65 percent of employees disagree or strongly disagree. 21 percent agree or strongly agree.

Statement: "Staffing levels are adequate to meet the demand for police services."

85 percent disagree or strongly disagree. Six percent agree or strongly agree.