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A Times Editorial

More than ever, answers are due on police scandal

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000

So far, only one employee at the Largo Police Department has lost his job after the investigation into the Police Explorer program. But that employee had nothing to do with the Explorer program or the scandal that led to the investigation. In fact, Mac Williams, the department's public information officer, wasn't even working at the department when the events being investigated took place.

Yet Williams resigned last Friday after Largo Police Chief Jerry Bloechle gave Williams a choice of resigning and receiving two more paychecks or being fired with no pay.

What had Williams done wrong? It isn't clear because Bloechle won't talk about the matter.

City Manager Steve Stanton, Bloechle's boss, said he was disappointed with the way Williams handled the release of information during the Explorer investigation.

Did Williams release too much information to the public, or too little? That's not clear, either.

The investigation found that three officers had sex with female Explorers, and additional allegations of inappropriate relationships were made against six current officers. The Explorer program is supposed to interest young people in law enforcement careers and is affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America.

At the very least, some police officers committed unethical (and perhaps illegal) acts and perverted the purpose of the Explorer program. Bloechle has not yet said what disciplinary action he plans to take against any of those officers.

According to police records, Williams had been a valued employee until he was forced to resign last week. In his latest evaluation (dated Oct. 12, 1999) Williams was praised as a "community treasure." The evaluation ended with these words: "(Williams) is a collaborator, a doer and a thinker who (sic) I am extremely proud to have as a member of my staff, but ultimately the community is the real winner in having such a high caliber individual in its service."

So Largo residents are left to wonder: Did Williams make an error in judgment that was serious enough to cost him his job? Or is Williams a scapegoat for the wrongdoing of others?

Bloechle is unwilling to answer that question. So doesn't the Largo City Commission owe it to Williams and city residents to find out what is really going on?

It sounds like Largo has serious problems inside its Police Department -- involving mismanagement, credibility issues and questionable ethics -- that can't be resolved with the firing of one employee.

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