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Police exit interviews reveal problems

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 30, 2000


PINELLAS PARK -- City officials had ample warning that there were problems in the Pinellas Park Police Department.

Of 84 department employees (not including school crossing guards) who have left the city since 1995, almost half filled out exit interviews. Of those 41 interviews, 26 had something bad to say about their experiences with the Police Department.

Here's a summary of some of those complaints:

In 1995, dispatcher Jamie Raisor said the job atmosphere was "stressful" because of the "personalities of officers, sergeants, etc." She warned that some male officers were "touching" some dispatchers, "which I feel will lead to (a) sexual harassment suit for (the) city."

In 1996, police Officer Jeff P. Dillard talked of favoritism and urged city officials to look at fraternization among rank-and-file officers, sergeants and upper-level officers.

Paula Henderson spent a little more than one month working in dispatch in 1997 before she was fired just two days before Christmas. She complained of racial epithets being used by supervisors and co-workers. She commented that racial insensitivity was condoned and was a common practice in the department. She said she was "appalled and shocked" by conduct in the department.

Officer John Zurenda said in 1997 that it was safer not to say anything if you disagreed with a superior officer's evaluation of you. "It can be like winning a battle and losing the war," he said.

Officer Timothy Finley commented in 1998 that non-mandatory training was limited to a few select people.

Last year, Officer Edward Muller advised a change in administration to solve problems in the department. Among his complaints: promotion of people with only four to five years of experience; a complete lack of people skills among administrators; and fear of retaliation. After describing the working conditions as "horrible," he said, "I would have left for anything decent."

Paul M. Pantel left the Pinellas Park department to go to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. He said: "Hopefully, I'll be treated better than I was here. I'm taking a pay cut to go to the (Sheriff's Office)." He spoke of a bad relationship between officers and sergeants/administrators, then said, "I'm afraid to say anything to anyone." He thought the department's problems were not being addressed.

Officer Beverly Heneveld, who left this year, wrote of being verbally abused and called a "liability" in front of other officers. She said some people were told they were "stupid." She referred to the possibility of gender and age discrimination in the department as well as "witch hunts."

Communications trainer Carol Seely was also harsh when she left this year after almost 16 years with the city. Job evaluations, she said, play on personalities. The "administration does dirty tricks and negative comments that undermine the morale of the whole agency, especially negative comments toward females," she wrote. Her advice: "Stop degrading people. Stop negative comments about their employees."

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