TARPON SPRINGS – The Tarpon Springs Police Department is comprised of 53 officers, more than 70 vehicles including a converted military troop transporter and a mobile command center, hundreds of weapons, thousands of items such as ammo clips, restraints and cameras plus one highly trained canine officer.
All of that man-, dog- and firepower was on display at the department’s South Huey Avenue headquarters last week, as the Police Department underwent its second reaccreditation process. It was an exhaustive three-day inspection conducted by state assessors that included the “static” display of all the equipment as well as interviews, ride alongs and other deep dives into the inner workings of the department.
“Every three years, we have to go through the recertification process through the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation, and if we pass, it means we are an accredited agency,” Maj. Jeffrey Young said as he, Chief Robert Kochen and other department leaders led the assessors through a two-hour tour of the equipment and vehicles on Dec. 15.
“There are best practices and standards set by the agency, and we have to meet those standards and have policies and procedures in place in order to meet certain benchmarks to be certified.”
For those with little inside knowledge of the size and scope of Tarpon’s police department, seeing everything laid out in one space, with the officers readily explaining how all the equipment works and when they should use it, shed new light on how well equipped and organized the department is.
Of the few civilians attending the event, one in particular was certainly impressed with the showing.
“I always knew we had a great police department, but this is my first time seeing everything in one location, and I’m very impressed,” Mayor Chris Alahouzos said as he walked from station to station learning about the equipment and vehicles on display. “I’m very impressed and proud that we have all this equipment and well-trained officers so the people of Tarpon Springs can feel safe.”
According to Sgt. Frank Ruggiero, the Police Department’s accreditation manager, the purpose of the process is to make sure the department is held to the highest standards.
“To be accredited puts us in the top tier,” he said, noting roughly 160 of the state’s 400 departments have achieved accreditation, which involves being in compliance with more than 250 professional standards designed specifically for Florida law enforcement agencies. “I’ve been involved in accreditation since 2002 and now I set up the training for everyone across the state, so I see the others and I know we’re in the top five percent. This is our second reaccreditation process since we became a state accredited agency in 2013, and this is something Kochen really pushed for when he took over.”
As the two-hour review wound down, Maj. Young said it would take a couple of months before they learned the official results, though he admitted they would have a pretty good idea of how they fared much sooner.
“We’ll have a good idea after they leave,” he said. “But we won’t find out for sure if we passed until February.”
He also noted everyone on the force welcomes the challenge.
“This is where we learn, develop and grow and make sure all the policies and procedures are in place to make us a better department,” he said. “We all welcome this because it’s time for the officers to shine.”
While he watched Officer Tommy Nguyen put newly acquired canine officer CK through a few drills, Kochen said of the process: “It’s something we support, to make sure we’re following the best practices and we’re prepared for anything. That’s what we’re all about.”