LAKELAND, Fla. - Bruce Abels stopped short of saying it was "open season" on Lakeland's embattled police chief, but the chairman of the city's Police Advisory Commission told board members that Friday's meeting was their chance to ask whatever questions they may have about Lisa Womack's troubled department.
And ask they did.
Panel member Mary Smith wanted answers about why Lakeland police officers were writing incomplete reports after responding to service calls.
Womack said it was a problem dating back to when she first took over as police chief several years ago.
"Our reports, and it came to my attention very quickly, seemed to be missing some aspects of that. Such as, we would have three or four officers on a scene doing something, but only one doing a report," Womack said.
"That is not a good way to do it," said Womack.
The police chief said she has taken steps to improve the situation, and has been sending reports back to officers if they're deemed incomplete. But Womack admitted that the department is still not fully up to snuff.
"Are we exactly where we need to be? Absolutely not," Womack said.
Lakeland's police department has been under increased scrutiny after a series of scandals rocked the agency in recent months. In particular, a sex scandal where several high ranking officers admitted to having inappropriate sexual relations with a civilian employee over a seven year period.
Video of a Lakeland police officer during a traffic stop searching a woman's bra for drugs became widespread on the internet.
"That is disappointing," said Jacinda Hance, a Lakeland mother of two who hoped the scandals would be cleared up soon. "They should make better choices considering what they're supposed to be doing for us," Hance said.
Tara Moliere, a Lakeland resident who only just recently heard about the controversy involving the police department, said she was surprised about the nature of the scandals.
"I think they should be ethical and loyal and focused," Moliere said.
The panel asked Womack extensive questions about the promotional practices of the department, as several of the accused officers were among the top ranked on the force.
Panelist Katrina Lunsford was concerned about the criteria Womack followed when granting promotions, and whether she was bound by union rules and contracts.
"I have total discretion with captains and deputy chiefs," Womack said. But promoting lieutenants and sergeants followed rules closely tied to the union's collective bargaining agreement with the city.
That concerned chairman Abels, who wondered if that forced Womack's hand in choosing multiple officers for jobs who might have a questionable record.
"In theory you could end up with the top three candidates all being candidates with problems," Abels said. "And now if you want to fill the slot you've got to fill it with one of the problem children," he said.
Womack responded by saying that scenario was highly unlikely, and the selection process usually finds the "cream of the crop," she said.
The police chief made a point during the questioning to say she had no plans of leaving the department any time soon. Several city commissioners suggested Womack may need to be replaced.
But Womack has garnered support among some Lakeland residents, who view her as the scapegoat for scandals that pre-date her leadership of the agency.
Hilda Partin, a lifelong Lakeland resident, said Womack has handled the situation well, considering the high profile nature of the cases.
"I think with the sex scandals they've had, I think she's doing the best she can do," Partin said.
Chris Trenkmann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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