Crime & Courts
Troubled Lakeland police focus of town hall meeting
LAKELAND - More than 200 people attended a town hall meeting Monday night about the embattled Lakeland Police Department. Residents told city leaders how they felt about the department's many issues: namely sex scandals, complaints about improper searches and botched criminal cases involving officers accused of altering sworn statements used in court. Billy Townsend, who writes columns for a website, Lakeland Local, asked numerous questions, including whether there would be any leadership changes at City Hall. "The culture thrived under this leadership," Townsend said. "Why does anyone think it will change under this leadership?"The sexual misconduct allegations were made public last month in a State Attorney's Office report that said dozens of consensual and multiple forced sexual encounters involving more than 20 officers and city workers. The police department launched its own investigation, which city officials have estimated will take several more weeks to complete. In addition, the department has been repeatedly criticized by State Attorney Jerry Hill. Since March 26, Hill has sent six letters to Police Chief Lisa 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. Meanwhile, the co-chairs of an advisory commission formed to help the department as it tries to recover from its recent problems have resigned. The Ledger reported that Lakeland businessman Joe P. Ruthven and Polk State College President Eileen Holden were appointed July 12 to lead the group. But the two resigned Monday before the commission's first meeting scheduled for Thursday. Mayor Gow Fields told the newspaper a factor in their decision was that the commission grew from being a five- to seven-member group to 15. In a letter, Holden told Fields she still hopes to have some involvement in helping solve the police department's problems. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the sexual misconduct allegations and is conducting a second criminal investigation relating to the sexual misconduct case within the department.