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Police Review Board disbanded

April 1, 2014
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Even members of the Civilian Police Review Board were split on the board's value on overseeing the Cape Coral Police Department, if not slightly weighted toward being discontinued. Cape Coral City Council agreed and unanimously voted Monday night to dissolve the six-member board.

It was Chief Bart Connelly who brought the matter to council several weeks ago, requesting the board be discontinued by repealing the original ordinance that established the board in 2011. His reasons included safeguards already in place such as accreditation, self governance and oversight by three outside agencies, including the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He said the board had not offered any suggestions for improving department transparency, operations or policies, and no recommendations for additional equipment or training.

Deputy Chief Dave Newlan reiterated Connelly's previous presentation, reminding council of the department's outreach programs for kids, its use of social media and public affairs personnel.

"In 20 years, FDLE has never once changed or disagreed with any Cape PD reports," Newlan said. "In all the thousands of interactions with the public each year, there has been just one question or complaint per 11,000 contacts."

Board member Carmen Salome backed the chief's request, adding that, "We could create a workshop for citizens to help educate them on their rights during a roadside police stop. This issue was brought up to me several times by people in the community."

Board member Jason Menapace also spoke in support of dissolving the board.

"In two years you have received one report from the board," Menapace said. "There have been no recommendations for changes to the department, therefore I don't see the cost analysis to keep the board and I support the chief in repealing the ordinance."

Others expressed a similar opinion at the podium, including former Councilmember Delores Bertolini, who said, "The CRB seems at an end and it is all due to the success of the Cape Coral Police Department, which is far and above any other department in Southwest Florida."

Only board chairman Duane Adams argued to save the board. He launched a 30-minute dissertation citing statistics and emails from other review boards in cities of similar size to Cape Coral in the nation from as far away as Eugene, Ore.

"I'm asking council to rewrite the ordinance to make it more effective and allow the board more latitude to improve it and make it stronger," Adams said.

"I am a supporter of police review boards," said Councilmember Jim Burch. "I don't like to take people off boards or dissolve them, but everything I have heard here compels me to dissolve this board. I did not hear any ideas to strengthen the board. I don't see support among the board members themselves, so I believe it is time to sunset this ordinance."

Citing the chief's point that it has cost the department $17,300 in staff time preparing for and meeting the review board, Councilmember Rena Erbrick agreed the taxpayer money could be better spent.

"The dollars are not a major issue, it's half a patrol car," said Erbrick. "The lack of recommendations by the board proves that we are doing OK. I don't take disbanding a board lightly, it's serious, but I think it has done its job and I thank all the members who have sat on the board for their service."

Councilmember Derrick Donnell applauded Salome's suggestion for citizen workshops.

"I like that idea very much," he said. "And I want to go forward with that. I thank you for that."

In a similar matter before council, two members of the Charter School Governing Board whose terms had expired sought reappointment. Amy Jackson and Pascha Donaldson both were approved for another term. A third candidate for the two vacancies was applauded for his continued involvement in the school system and urged to apply again in the near future when a seat is anticipated to open up.

Dan Noah, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin, presented Mayor Marni Sawicki and council with a Storm Ready Community designation. The award is the product of a year-long effort by the Cape Coral Fire Department and the city in meeting several criteria to qualify as one of only 15 Florida cities to achieve the Storm Ready designation.



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