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Did Sheriff go too far with police investigation? | News

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Did Sheriff go too far with police investigation?

KENNETH CITY, FLORIDA -- An investigation into the Kenneth City Police Department turned up accusations of officer misconduct and possible wasted taxpayer money.

But it's who conducted the investigation that has some town residents calling it a major conflict of interest.

"As a resident, I'm concerned," said Larry Hauft, a lifelong Kenneth City resident who supports the police department.

The Kenneth City mayor asked Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats to investigate the police. That investigation led to accusations that officers were turning off their GPS systems while on duty and taking extended breakfast breaks at a Bob Evans restaurant outside city limits, as well as several other things.

The problem Hauft sees, though, is he claims Coats wants to absorb the police department and is in favor of patrolling the area with his own deputies.

Coats even included in his investigation how much cheaper it would be for the sheriff's office to cover Kenneth City.

"That's a conflict.  How can you investigate and then say, 'By the way I'd like to come in and provide services to you for a fee?'" Hauft said.

Coats calls his report fair, neutral, and impartial. He says he never considered not doing the investigation after the mayor asked him and there is no conflict of interest.

"Not at all," Coats said, "our report speaks for itself."

Coats points out his agency does this type of investigation regularly, 13 times since 2001.

He stopped short of saying he wants to take over the police department, buy says deputies would provide better service and cost half as much.

"I don't think the sheriff would necessarily gain anything.  The citizens would gain," Coats said.

But not all of those citizens see it that way.

"We've known for years that the sheriff's department wanted to take over security in the town of Kenneth City," Hauft said.

Now it could be the sheriff's own investigation that causes the police department to disappear.

At this point the mayor and city council have not taken any action against the police chief or any officers.

They're expected to take up the issue again next month.


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