St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Unsigned letter stirs anxiety among police

An anonymous missive about the St. Pete Beach police brass fuels 11 signed ones - and more discontent.

By AMY WIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 9, 2001


ST. PETE BEACH -- Another anonymous letter from someone claiming to be a police officer has again caused tension in the ranks at the Police Department, already reeling from an investigation this summer into how the city's top cops manage the agency.

ST. PETE BEACH -- Another anonymous letter from someone claiming to be a police officer has again caused tension in the ranks at the Police Department, already reeling from an investigation this summer into how the city's top cops manage the agency.

The letter characterizes one police captain as overly ambitious -- a cop "who would issue his own mother a traffic ticket if it meant he could be promoted" -- and the chief as a disconnected "nice man and probably a kind-hearted individual" who lacks leadership skills.

The letter, mailed to a city commissioner at home, led 11 other department employees, most of them officers, to write letters of their own to the city manager and commissioners. Those letters defend Capt. Todd Kirchgraber and Chief Ray Kaminskas, the principal targets of the anonymous letters.

"The anonymous letter is very abusive toward the chief, and I am honestly offended," wrote Officer Kevin Kenyon, who suggested hiring an outside consultant to evaluate problems at the Police Department. "Try another agency and get a reality check on exactly how bad management can be."

St. Pete Beach police officers are the second highest paid in the county. (The highest paid are campus police at the University of South Florida.) Kaminskas said he was taking the charges levied in the letter seriously, even though its author did not identify himself or herself.

Some of the officers who wrote letters defending the department said anonymous letter writing is cowardly and the memo should be disregarded.

"We're looking at these as there's obviously a high level of frustration by the writer of the anonymous letter," said Kaminskas. "You don't automatically disregard a letter just because it's anonymous."

He said he had spoken to officers individually and in groups about their concerns since the letter was delivered and had a department meeting on Friday.

A similar letter sent to former City Manager Carl Schwing this summer led Schwing to investigate the department. After about a month of interviewing Police Department employees and investigating complaints outlined in the letter, Schwing recommended suspending Kirchgraber and Capt. Joe Cornish for two days without pay.

Schwing concluded that competition between the two captains divided the department. He blamed them, as well as the chief, who Schwing believed did not do enough to rectify the issue, for low morale.

Schwing resigned suddenly about two weeks after concluding his investigation, and Acting City Manager Chris Brimo, who took his place, lifted the suspensions. The chief and both captains received letters of caution and instruction for their personnel files.

The most recent anonymous letter, written Nov. 16, criticizes Kaminskas for reassigning the duties of his two captains, making Kirchgraber head of operations and placing Cornish in charge of administrative staff. Among other changes pushed by Kirchgraber, the new operations captain wanted to switch officers from 10- to eight-hour shifts, which proved unpopular with many of the patrol officers.

Kaminskas said the department is now working on new shift arrangements that will ensure the city has officers during the times most calls come in.

The letter writer also accuses the chief of not getting involved in daily operations and of "waiting, floating around and counting the minutes before he can retire and collect a pension."

Kaminskas declined to respond directly to the accusations.

"There's perceptions involved, and perceptions, to a lot of people, are reality," the chief said. "I take perceptions very seriously. What I'm looking at doing is, I need to address their concerns and move forward."

City Commissioner Peter Blank, who received the anonymous letter in the mail at his home, said he hopes the city can resolve the problems at the Police Department before the newly hired city manager takes over, likely in January.

Blank said problems appeared to begin when Kaminskas promoted Kirchgraber to captain last year and the department had two captains for the first time.

"Since then, there seems to be this underground undercurrent of discontent," Blank said. "Basically, I thought it had been taken care of, and all of the sudden it seems to have resurfaced, which means it wasn't taken care of."

Added Brimo, the acting city manager: "We need to resolve this objectively, and we need to resolve this now."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.