I-Team: Controversy over new police chief hire

ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla. - Controversy is brewing over a new police chief in Zephyrhills.

The city conducted a national search but hired someone from the inside. I-team investigator Jarrod Holbrook discovered the city's choice didn't meet a basic requirement for the job.

President Jim Diamond of the police union, West Central FL PBA, is frustrated at who got the Zephyrhills chief's job after a national search.

After reviewing all of the candidates' qualifications obtained by the I-Team, Diamond said, "I can't help but think this was not a legitimate search, and certainly he's not as qualified as the ones who applied for the job. It appears that basically this was done as a sham or an exercise to give cover to what you intended to do to begin with."

When city officials posted the job, a minimum qualification was a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university.

There were 23 applicants from all over the country. All but one had a bachelor's degree, inside candidate and Zephyrhills' new police chief Derek Brewer.

"Well then, if he hasn't received the degree then by their own documents, at this time, he's not qualified for the job," Diamond said.

While his resume lists a bachelor's degree, Brewer hasn't graduated yet. The I-team confirmed he's 9 credits short.

Of the 23 candidates, Brewer had the least amount of law enforcement experience. At least 10 applicants had master's degrees.

Check out some of the examples:

  • A police chief in a major Texas city with a master's degree and a former Dallas officer for 24 years.
  • A university police chief with 2 master's degrees and law enforcement experience dating back to the 1980s.

At least 8 of the candidates with master's degrees tell us they were never even contacted by the city.

Check out all of the candidates qualifications here (Many of the candidates still hold positions of employment, therefore ABC Action News is withholding their names): http://wfts.tv/2h61tHH

Diamond was hoping for an outside hire.

"I would say what they really needed was a professional, educated, and experienced law enforcement officer to come in as chief from the outside."

An outside hire because Zephyrhills has a long documented history of high turnover, low morale, and a lack of proper police training. While union president, Diamond also trains local law enforcement agencies after retiring from a 34 year career.

Reporter: In your opinion are they still under trained?
Diamond: Yes. In my opinion they are.

Reporter: Is it to a point where it's a public safety issue for the officers and the public?
Diamond: I think it could be, yes.

Zephyrhills City Manager Steve Spina recognizes the departments past problems but says he's made changes to improve them. We asked him about the chief job search:

Reporter: Can you sit here today and say this was an honest search?
Spina: Yes, I can.

Spina says he and his personnel team presented 6 finalists to a review panel. He interviewed the finalists along with the panel. He then recommended Brewer to the city council.

Beyond the 6 finalists the panel did not see the applications or qualifications of the other 17 candidates.

Spina defends his choice, "in my opinion, he's capable, more than capable of doing the job."

Spina says Brewer is close enough to graduating to where he's not concerned about failing to meet the minimum education qualification.

Still, Diamond believes there were plenty of more qualified candidates to choose from.

"He's a nice enough individual, but he lacks experience and training and I think that's been proven over time."

ZPD's new chief Derek Brewer says he understands he wasn't the best candidate on paper but feels he's up for the challenge, and looks forward to the opportunity.

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Jarrod Holbrook is an Emmy and AP Award-winning Investigative Reporter for the ABC Action News I-Team. Do you have a story idea? Contact Jarrod on FacebookTwitter, or via email at jarrod.holbrook@wfts.com.

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