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Rift between state college, sheriff’s office widens

NEW PORT RICHEY — The parting of ways between the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and Pasco-Hernando State College recently hit a snag.

Pasco-Hernando State College attempted to halt the detention staff academy hosted by the sheriff’s office at its Land O’ Lakes jail and taught by the Citrus County Public Safety Training Center staff, according to documents. Instead, PHSC wanted to host the academy.

Also, a letter written by Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco on Monday explicitly discourages his deputies from having any ties with the college’s law enforcement academy. They are in the process of creating their own agency-run academy for new recruits.

Just prior to the detention academy’s March 11 start date, the college logged a complaint with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, citing a rule that requires an out-of-region training staff — Citrus County in this case — to seek approval from the training site for that particular area, which is Pasco-Hernando State College.

A letter written to FDLE from the Pasco sheriff’s office said the complaint was filed on March 6, five days before the academy began.

“From our standpoint, this was a last-minute attempt to undermine us,” Nocco said. “And that’s what we think is particularly unprofessional. It not only would have cost the Pasco sheriff’s office, it would have cost the taxpayers roughly $70,000 by this last-minute stunt.”

An emergency waiver was filed on the sheriff’s office’s behalf by Capt. Phillip Royal, director of the Citrus County Public Safety Training Center.

It was approved by FDLE, temporarily waving that rule and allowing the academy to go on.

“We were disappointed in the outcome of the emergency waiver by the Criminal Justice Standards Commission,” college spokeswoman Lucy Miller said.

“In the best interest of the public, the taxpayers, and all involved, training should be provided by PHSC, the FDLE approved training facility for our region. A perfect FDLE audit of our public service facilities and instruction underscores the quality of our law enforcement programs.”

Nocco said if the emergency waiver had not been approved, the 22 members of the detention academy would have had to drive to the Citrus County Public Safety Training Center in Inverness. The agency would have had to provide per diem for each person, which includes travel and meal costs, he said.

The two entities have been at odds for months. The sheriff’s office late last year, expressed a waning sense of trust in the partnership that had been in place since at least 1974.

In January, steps were taken to allow the Pasco sheriff’s office to split from PHSC and pair with the Pasco County school district on a new law enforcement academy.

During a Region IX Criminal Justice Training Council meeting, a vote was held allowing a “needs assessment” to be conducted. The assessment will determine if a partnership between the sheriff’s office and the school district can move forward.

Monday’s letter illustrated the fractured relationship.

“I will not allow our agency to continue a relationship with the academy as it is not in the best interest of this agency, our members or the citizens we serve,” said the letter, addressed to the college’s Board of Trustees chairman, John DiRienzo.

During January’s meeting, Ray Gadd, assistant superintendant, spoke about the $10 million renovation being made to Marchman Technical Education Center in New Port Richey, which would allow an academy to be hosted at that location.

During that same council meeting, it also was agreed to allow the Land O’ Lakes jail to be designated a temporary satellite training location.

Also, the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office asked to be removed from Region IX and placed in Region VI, which would separate that agency from the PHSC academy, as well.

Soon after January’s vote for a needs assessment, planning for the detention academy began. The sheriff’s office said $12,000 was spent preparing for the detention academy and recruiting candidates.

In an initial March 8 email before the waiver was filed — to Nancy Bunch, the director of the PHSC Public Services Program — Royal asked if the school could rescind its objection.

“This is a delicate and unusual circumstance, but I trust you will understand my request,” Royal wrote. “Since PHSC did not vote on January 16th and I have not formally requested your approval, I would like to sincerely request approval from PHSC to conduct this training at our CJSTC approved Pasco County Jail classroom locations.”

In response, Bunch wrote: “Pasco-Hernando State College (PHSC) does not approve Citrus County Public Safety Training Center’s request to conduct training at the Pasco Sheriff’s Office Land O’ Lakes Detention Center.

“PHSC’s mission is to provide this training within the region and has the facilities available to conduct this training at the East Campus in Dade City. PHSC is willing to work with (the) Pasco Sheriff’s Office to provide this training. PHSC will not approve an out of area certified training center to conduct basic recruiting training in the Pasco or Hernando County area.”

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