City leaders back police chief as department rides wave of controversy

Latest black eye involves bra-shaking search

LAKELAND, Fla. - Lakeland city leaders are standing behind Chief of Police Lisa Womack, as her department battles a growing list of controversial episodes.

The latest black eye came Thursday, when State Attorney Jerry Hill wrote a stern letter to the chief after learning an officer demanded a woman lift her shirt and shake her bra in an effort to find drugs on a traffic stop.

Hill called the incident that was caught on dash cam video "highly inappropriate and unnecessary," since the officer did not have probable cause.

"Unfortunately, we're in a difficult stretch right now, but we will work our way through that stretch," said Doug Thomas, Lakeland City Manager.

Two days before the dash cam controversy, another officer testified in court that he and others routinely have DUI suspects sign blank forms that they fill in later, bringing in to question hundreds of past arrests.

Then last month, an off-duty officer was caught on surveillance video beating up a man following a road rage incident.

Plus, in a totally unrelated case, the FDLE is investigating some employees for misconduct.

"I think the Lakeland leadership needs to take a real hard look at what they're providing for the citizens of Lakeland," Hill told reporters on Thursday.

He suggested it may be time for some changes, but Mayor Gow Fields said 'not so fast.'

"It's important for us to finish our investigation.  He had the chance to finish his.  Give us the same professional courtesy to finish ours," Gow said.  "We want our citizens to know, we're fully engaged.  And if an officer has done something wrong, we'll take the appropriate action."

Right now the Lakeland Police Department has 18 open internal investigations.  They've had a total of 27 investigations this year.

Chief Womack said the latest investigation dealing with the improper searches, should be complete within the next week or two.

The main officer involved has already served a four-day suspension and is now back to work, but there are concerns other officers are using the same technique.

"There should be no loss in faith in the department.  Things happen with an agency of our size," Womack said in a phone interview. "The community needs to be reassured we have not failed to properly respond to any issues that come up."

Thomas praised the department's recent accomplishments, including the gold standard accreditation it received.

"Most of our law enforcement officers are doing very good work for our community. We'll deal with those who have inappropriately acted, after we have completed our investigation," he said.

State Attorney Jerry Hill declined further comment on the matter.

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