Crime & Courts
Advisory panel to target troubled Lakeland Police Department
Lakeland's mayor announced the formation of an advisory commission to recommend ways to improve community trust in the city's police in the wake of department sex scandal. In a news release, Mayor Gow Fields and Police Chief Lisa Womack said the panel will be made up of business and civic leaders appointed by the mayor. The commission announcement was made shortly before Womack was to meet with Polk County State Attorney Jerry Hill, who wrote a scathing letter to the chief last month about the department's troubles. The advisory commission will be led by Joe P. Ruthven and Polk State College President Eileen Holden, the news release said.Among the tasks, it will look to see if cultural changes are needed and what steps may need to be taken to ensure that city employees feel comfortable about bringing complaints forward, Fields and Womack said. "This advisory commission will be comprised of Lakeland people with a Lakeland focus," Fields said in the news release. "We want to assure the residents of Lakeland that we have heard their comments. This is about more than disciplinary actions. This is about restoring confidence with our police department." The commission will be asked to provide a timeline for progress reports, and recommendations are expected in 60 to 90 days. Hill's letter to Womack detailed dozens of consensual and multiple forced sexual encounters involving more than 20 police officers and city employees. The report was based on investigations by the State Attorney's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Hill urged city leaders to re-evaluate the police department's leadership but stopped short of saying Womack should be removed. The Polk County Legislative Delegation recommended that Polk Sheriff Grady Judd step in to help the Lakeland agency until the scandal blows over.