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Officials to discuss Explorers situation

Largo's police chief is expected to admit that he erred in handling a claim that officers and Explorers had had sexual relations.

By ERIC STIRGUS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2000


LARGO -- Some have criticized his judgment. Others have questioned his job status.

On Tuesday, police Chief Jerry Bloechle will try to put an embarrassing investigation into the department's relationship with its youth Explorer post behind him. He'll discuss the matter before the public for the first time since the city released a report that showed allegations that officers were having sex with Explorers existed years before the investigation was launched.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Largo City Commission chambers, 201 Highland Ave.

Bloechle is expected tell city commissioners that he made a mistake last year by not thoroughly investigating claims made in a suicide note from Officer John Ferraro that other officers were having relationships with Explorers.

The report, released on May 5, found three current Largo officers had sexual relationships with Explorers. Investigators also discovered during the 1 1/2-month probe that two current officers did not report rumors or facts of improper behavior to supervisors.

A disciplinary review board will investigate the findings of the report and determine if any action should be taken against the officers.

The chief will also explain how officers are disciplined and what steps the department will take to make sure a similar situation does not occur again.

"It lets the people know what's going on and why," said Mayor Bob Jackson.

The presentation is in response to resident concerns that there has not been a public discussion of the investigation, said City Manager Steven Stanton.

"I think the people want to know how the city is going to react to this thing," said Stanton. "They want to hear from the police chief."

Bloechle declined to comment Monday on what he will tell commissioners.

Commissioner Marty Shelby said the presentation will be a good opportunity for residents to glean a clearer picture of the investigation.

"There are some people that don't realize (Bloechle) was not chief during the dates in question and that may make a difference," he said. Questions concerning the relationships between officers and Explorers date to 1990. Bloechle became chief in 1997.

While many residents and business people have showed support for Bloechle, a few have suggested to commissioners that Bloechle be fired.

Commissioners will have the chance to ask questions or make remarks to the chief after he makes his comments. Commissioner Pat Gerard said she wants specifics on guidelines that will prevent officers and Explorers from being entangled in potentially compromising situations.

"I want to see a firm plan of how this is never going to happen again and what have we changed," she said.

Jackson said he wants to know how long it will take for the panel to review the report. The mayor said he has been asked by several merchants what will be done to officers who were found to have acted improperly.

"They're still waiting for some discipline," he said Monday.

Information from Times files was used in this report.

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