Crime & Courts
Lakeland police advisory commission elects new chairman
An advisory commission - sans five of its appointees - looking into problems with the Lakeland Police Department met for the first time Thursday. The 10 remaining members got started by attempting to organize and set some goals. Mayor Gow Fields formed and appointed 15 citizens to the committee last week in the wake of department scandals related to sexual misconduct, which were outlined last month in a State Attorney's Office report. Five people, including the co-chairs, resigned before the first meeting, some citing that the panel was too big.On Thursday, the commission elected Bruce Abels, a logistics professional and retired president of Saddle Creek Corp., as chairman. Tim Jackson, chief operating officer of NuJak Development, will be vice chairman. However, members expressed a desire for a mandate from the city that their input was even wanted. Fields said he will take that request to the city commission. Police Chief Lisa Womack also attempted to allay concerns. "We are going to give you all the resources and all the information that you ask for," Womack said. The group will target her department's environment for encouraging complaints and concerns over how those complaints are investigated. Polk State Attorney Jerry Hill's report contained allegations of dozens of consensual and multiple forced sexual encounters involving more than 20 officers and city workers. In addition, Hill has sent several critical letters to Womack, including one for a widely publicized "bra-shaking" traffic stop search and another involving the sex-scandal debacle. Three officers resigned before they were fired for their part in the scandal. Two others were fired and have said they will appeal Womack's decision to fire them. Womack told the advisory commission she hopes to have investigations and discipline related to the scandals complete by Sept. 1. The commission has agreed to begin meeting Fridays beginning next week.