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Deputy speaks out on transfer request

He says he enjoys working in Seminole, but he asked to leave because of problems in the sheriff's community policing unit.

By WILMA NORTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2000


SEMINOLE -- Cpl. Darren Romero stood before the City Council to explain why he had asked to leave.

photo
[Times photo: Jim Damaske]
Cpl. Darren Romero, Seminole's community policing officer, investigates the theft of a bicycle from a mobile home park visitor last year. On Tuesday, he discussed his reasons for requesting a transfer.
It had nothing to do with the council or the city, the Pinellas County Sheriff's deputy said Tuesday night as part of his monthly report. It had to do with problems inside the sheriff's community policing unit, he said.

Romero told the council he originally had planned to read them a report glossing over the reasons behind his request for a transfer out of community policing. Ten of the unit's 14 deputies requested transfers last month.

But, he told them, "I couldn't stomach presenting it. . . . I don't think you deserve to hear a bunch of rhetoric."

Then he went on to say the transfer requests were meant to "send a loud and clear message" about their concerns. Deputies are not represented by a collective bargaining unit, he said, so they have no established means of arbitration or mediation.

"The transfer requests were intended as a message that there was something wrong with unit as a whole," Romero said. "None of the deputies requesting transfers did so because they were burned out or tired of the assignment. . . . We believe we can no longer work effectively under the current style of management."

Romero still was not specific about the problems he and other officers perceived in the community policing unit. And he declined to elaborate Wednesday.

The unit's commander, Lt. Carol Rasor, could not be reached for comment.

Sheriff Everett Rice said no formal investigation or Internal Affairs inquiry was sparked by the transfer requests. He said each person asking for a transfer was interviewed by bureau commander Maj. Sam Lynn.

Lynn is on vacation and has the details of those discussions, Rice said.

"From what I understood, everybody gave a different reason (for the transfer request). There was no theme," Rice said.

The sheriff said he assumed the matter was closed.

"It was a management issue handled by the patrol commanders," Rice said. Romero, he said, "was told not to talk about it, and yet he did."

Tuesday night, Romero said he and his colleagues first "felt confident the crux of the problems would be resolved" after Lynn's investigation.

Two weeks later, however, the transfers began, he said. "Obviously, the end result of the investigation is the unit sergeant and 10 deputies have to transfer."

Community policing officers work in unincorporated areas and in cities that have law enforcement agreements with the Sheriff's Office. Seminole pays the sheriff $44,244.84 annually for Romero's position.

The community policing officers act as liaisons between the Sheriff's Office and people in the community. They are based in neighborhoods such as High Point and in housing complexes and community centers from Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard to south Pinellas.

In Seminole, Romero did everything from putting on bike rodeos to checking on residents under house arrest to be sure they were where they were supposed to be. He is still working in Seminole, but said he expects to be transferred by July 1.

Seminole Mayor Dottie Reeder said she wants to meet with Rice to discuss Romero's transfer and any problems within the community policing unit. Seminole is pleased with the program and might consider adding another officer if annexation efforts are successful, she said.

"I need to hear management's side of it as well," she said. "We're sorry to lose Darren. He was very good."

Romero has been praised for the responsible way he has kept city leaders informed, making monthly reports to the council and having frequent informal discussions with City Manager Frank Edmunds.

Reeder said she realizes community policing officers don't stay forever, but she said it takes several months for the officer to learn the community and for the community to meet and trust the officer.

"I just wish Darren was going to stay," she said.

Romero told the council that his departure has nothing to do with the job or the way he was treated by the city.

"In my nearly three years as your community policing officer, I have thoroughly enjoyed my assignment," Romero said. "All of you have made me feel like a contributing member of the city staff."

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