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Hollywood Police Department no longer professionally accredited

BYLINE: Susannah Bryan Sun Sentinel,

Hollywood, FL

Hollywood Police Department loses bragging rights that come with state accreditation

Hollywood police chief says problem-plagued property room behind agency losing accreditation

Problems with property room at Hollywood Police Department go back 15 years, chief says

The Hollywood Police Department can no longer claim state accreditation. Long-term problems with the Property and Evidence Room are to blame. (Taimy Alvarez / Taimy Alvarez)

Despite the message on the squad cars, the trouble-prone Hollywood Police Department can no longer claim professional state accreditation.

Long-term problems with the agency's property and evidence unit that go back as far as 15 years are to blame, Police Chief Frank Fernandez said.

Hollywood squad cars still sport decals saying the agency is professionally accredited, but they will soon be removed, the chief said.

Hollywood first won state accreditation in 2002 but was removed from the list two weeks ago.

Now Hollywood is one of just three law enforcement agencies in Broward County not accredited. The other two — Coconut Creek and Sea Ranch Lakes — are much smaller. At full staff, Hollywood has 322 officers compared to 91 in Coconut Creek and 15 in Sea Ranch Lakes.

Two weeks ago, fearing the state review panel might revoke the agency's accreditation, Fernandez chose to withdraw from the process to give the agency the extra time needed to resolve problems with its property room.

Approximately 40 percent of Florida's police agencies have won state accreditation, says Lori Mizell, executive director of the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation.

The accreditation process is optional. But many chiefs aspire to it because it proves department policies follow best practices in law enforcement, from the way the agency handles use of force incidents to public records requests and allegations of misconduct against officers.

"It doesn't give you any money," Fernandez said. "It doesn't give you any prestige. It's a trophy for the agency."

Accreditation creates a measuring stick for an agency to follow, said Eugene O'Donnell, a law and police studies professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. But it doesn't necessarily mean the rank and file adheres to those policies, he said.

"The most brutal departments in America have 'professionally accredited' on the side of their police cars," O'Donnell said. "The fact that you advertise that you are accredited doesn't mean that you're doing it."

In Florida, agencies that want to keep their state accreditation are required to reapply every three years.

Hollywood had received a conditional accreditation last year and was in the process of seeking a second extension. But the problem-plagued evidence room proved to be a stumbling block, Fernandez said.

The chief blames a lack of oversight under previous administrations. Among the more high-profile problems were forgotten rape kits that were never processed and an estimated $170,000 in cash that went missing from the evidence vault. But there were other issues that didn't make headlines.

"A property unit of our size should have 50,000 pieces of evidence," Fernandez said. "We have more than 120,000. We also had evidence we could not find. We had 10,000 pieces of missing evidence."

The chief's team needs another 18 months to fix what is wrong with the property room, he said.

"We just need time to fix it," Fernandez said. "We need time to cure the mismanagement of the past. Over time it will be one of the best property evidence rooms in the country."

Some elected leaders were upset over the loss of accreditation.

"I think it looks bad," Commissioner Kevin Biederman said. "With the current low morale issue, I think that it doesn't help matters. It's a morale booster for your troops if you're accredited."

Commissioner Dick Blattner said the news didn't bother him at all.

"It doesn't change anything," he said. "We are doing terrific things in the police department. It's just nice to have, to put on the side of the cars. Not every department is accredited."

The chief says he plans to focus on national accreditation and will reapply for state accreditation when the time is right, he said.

In the meantime, residents can rest assured that the city's cops will keep on doing a professional job, he said.

"It doesn't impact services or the prestige of the department at all," he said. "We still comply with all the standards except for those in the property unit. We're working towards that."

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