What could a new Holmes Beach police chief accomplish in a year?
That’s what Mayor Carmel Monti has asked some candidates for the city’s top law enforcement spot.
In December, the newly elected mayor announced he would conduct a search to replace former Police Chief Jay Romine, and named the department’s 19-year lieutenant, Dale Stephenson, to fill the interim position.
In addition to Stephenson, five applicants submitted interest in the position, although it has not been advertised and there is yet no job description or deadline to apply.
Stephenson is seeking to hold the position until he retires. Because he opted into the Florida Deferred Retirement Option Program, that date is July 31, 2016.
Monti recently said he’s in no hurry to name a permanent successor, and that he prefers to hire from within.
The 2012-13 budget for the police department is $2.1 million, of which $1.78 million is personnel services, including salaries, taxes, retirement and insurance contributions.
Stephenson, a 26-year HBPD veteran, submitted his plan in January, saying “It’s really just a mixture of my feelings.”
Stephenson provided historical context as well as recommendations for the department, which includes 13 sworn officers and seven civilian employees. There are11 patrol officers, a detective sergeant, five dispatchers, a police clerk and an administrative assistant.
Stephenson recommends maintaining the status quo with a few tweaks in manpower, shift hours, community outreach, purchases, vehicles, marine patrol, police pension and succession plans.
He favors reinstating performance evaluations, a practice discontinued five to seven years ago.
Stephenson recommended combining the lieutenant and chief jobs, while adding a middle-line supervisor/patrol sergeant, who would be chosen through promotional testing and a multi-agency review board.
“As you know it is very important for members to feel they have a chance to expand a job function and be recognized for good work even if it is in a small agency,” Stephenson wrote.
He suggested shift changes for dispatchers, who presently work a 12-hour rotation.
“It’s my opinion that the officers schedule remain the same but the dispatch schedule be further evaluated due to cost and coverage issues,” Stephenson wrote.
In the past 26 years, Stephenson pointed out the department has grown by two officers, one created in the 1990s by a community police grant and later made into a permanent position, and another patrol position was added 10 years ago.
Stephenson said the department is handling complaints in the range of 2,700 and 3,000, while calls average 5,000-6,000 per year.
He said the call numbers have remained consistent over the past five years, saying they’ll vary “only a few hundred” each year.
Stephenson supports current staffing levels and recommends future changes be based not on national averages, but on a comparison of regions with similar population and tourist influx, as well as a determination that complaints are handled satisfactorily.
“I feel that currently we do meet that level and, by far, Holmes Beach Police Department backs up the other two cities more often than they respond to Holmes Beach,” he added.
While there’s been some talk about consolidating patrols and dispatch with Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach, Stephenson doesn’t see it happening unless one of the cities chooses to contract with Holmes Beach for those services.
In the late 1980s, a non-binding vote produced a joint dispatch center for the three island cities, but it disbanded due to disagreements among the cities. Only Holmes Beach continued to maintain a dispatch center.
Currently the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office dispatches emergency calls for Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria. Bradenton Beach has its own police force. Anna Maria contracts with the MCSO for law enforcement needs.
Stephenson said he looked into the possibility of one municipality providing another’s police services, and said it “can be done, but the discussion between both cities would be crucial to decide the needs of both communities.”
The Holmes Beach dispatch center operates with five certified telecommunications specialists who maintain state certification with periodic testing. A new law requires 230 hours of training for dispatchers, which one recent HBPD hire completed in December, according to Stephenson.
With concerns about the city’s pension contribution as the HBPD retirement rolls increase, former Mayor Rich Bohnenberger favored a move out of the city’s independent benefit plan and into the Florida Retirement System.
Stephenson, as a 25-year member on the city’s police pension board, which monitors its investments in the Municipal Police Officers’ Pension Trust Fund, disagrees.
“One of the first problems with that is that the city would no longer collect its share of state money toward the current retirement plan,” which, he said, is a $37,511 annual contribution.
In addition to increased costs and the loss of a 6 percent contribution from new hire salaries, Stephenson pointed to a lack of local control over investments and ongoing litigation involving changes in the Florida Retirement System.
Stephenson also identified problems with changing to a contribution-based plan.
He said his concern is “that the city could be impacted by a severe storm that would decimate the tax base” and without the state backup that exists in the current plan.
“If the city feels that change should take place, I would guide them in keeping the current plan, but changing the benefit rates for new hires,” he said.