Police Chief Joe Pelkington was facing strong criticism; but that has given way to praise

(TREASURE ISLAND, Fla. ) -- Last November, it appeared police Chief Joe Pelkington could lose his job. He received a harsh evaluation from the city manager, who promptly hired independent consultants to review the department.

Exactly a year later, the chief reigns.

The 21-member police force, which had suffered from too many vacancies, is short only one officer. The police station is about to undergo a major renovation. Next month, police officers will be able to file reports from laptop computers in their squad cars. And the department might get a dog.

In his latest evaluation, City Manager Chuck Coward praised Pelkington for his attitude and his ability to bring about the changes suggested in the consultants' management study.

The chief's leadership style, criticized last year for being "stale and rigid," was the key to the change, Coward said.

"I have expressed to Joe my appreciation for his attitude in response to the study and his approach to the study as a whole," said Coward. "With only a minimum amount of hesitation, Joe took the study and implemented it."

Coward gave Pelkington, 64, an 8 percent raise, bringing his salary from $59,000 to $63,720.

"I had no doubt that whatever was needed in this department, I could deliver it," Pelkington said last week. "I think attitude is very important. He is the boss."

Consultants Robert F. Chambers of Seminole and Charles D. Reynolds, a former New Hampshire police chief, presented the city with a 51-page analysis of the department and 50 recommendations for change.

The most significant alteration suggested by the consultants was a restructuring of the police command staff, abolishing the only lieutenant position and adding another sergeant to handle administrative affairs. The new management team was put into place in March, a month after the study was received.

Among the other accomplishments presented by Pelkington during his 2000 evaluation were:

Revising the department's mission statement;

Revising the department's recruitment and selection processes, including the establishment of a board to interview candidates;

Revising disciplinary procedures and establishing an advisory board for recommendations on disciplinary action;

Revising the patrol schedule, allowing officers to select more flexible work hours;

Adding a records coordinator and administrative assistant;

Expanding the number of certified police instructors and field training officers;

Acquiring a new vehicle for criminal investigations; Implementing a new computer system to expedite report writing so that officers can spend more time patrolling the community.

"We agreed that (Pelkington) had done 41 of the 50 recommendations, which I thought was very good," Coward said. The chief and the city's personnel director also have improved hiring practices.

City personnel director Fred Turner said last year that departing employees were complaining about favoritism and low morale.

"I'm not hearing that anymore," he said last week.

Turner has expanded the city's recruitment procedures to include national advertising on the Internet.

The department's 21-member force is short one officer because of a sergeant who is on disability leave. Pelkington said a dispatcher is scheduled to attend the police academy in January to train for that position.

Since October 1999, the department has hired six new officers, including two women currently attending the police academy. All six have experience as military police officers, Turner said. Posting vacancies on the city's Web site has attracted a number of military candidates, he added.

Because one position remains vacant, Coward said he didn't give Pelkington credit for fulfilling that recommendation in the consultants' report.

"We're close, but we're not there yet," Coward said.

The other eight recommendations include designing a master training plan, enduring the upcoming $500,000 building renovations and developing a plan for retaining employees.

"Now that we've hired all these people, what are we going to do to keep them?" Coward asked. "We need to specifically look at retention and not just hiring."

Pelkington also wants to buy a police dog and establish a K-9 unit next year.

Coward praised Pelkington for achieving so many of the department's goals in the nine months since the report was released.

"I'm very aware that Joe and certain members of the department did not agree with every one of those recommendations," Coward said. "All of us chose not to argue over those points but rather to take the best interest of the department to heart and to implement those.

"I think our police department is a much better department today then it was a year ago."

Mayor Leon Atkinson said he feared the worst when Pelkington received his marching orders last year.

"I did not think that he would accept the criticisms from the consultants, but I was very pleased that he did," Atkinson said. "I didn't see them (the chief and officers) trying to do like some troops would have done: say, "Okay, we'll do it but we'll make damn sure it doesn't work.' "

Atkinson said he believes the Treasure Island Police Department is well-run today. "I'm proud as punch of them, I really am," he said.

(iSyndicate; St. Petersburg Times Nov. 19, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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