Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor says a top-to-bottom review of her agency's DUI squad found areas that needed improvement, but overall they reveal "a top-notch DUI unit" dedicated to making the streets of Tampa safer.
Castor ordered the review last year after the head of her DUI squad, Sgt. Ray Fernandez, was implicated in the DUI set-up arrest of a Tampa attorney.
A five-member team reviewed 70 DUI cases, including every case investigated by Sgt. Ray Fernandez and Officer Tim McGinnis. A random sampling of DUI cases and cases that met a certain threshold based on blood alcohol levels were also reviewed.
"There were no red flags in any of Ray Fernandez's cases or Officer McGinnis's," the chief said.
Castor said the review did reveal instances of human error and common mistakes made by many officers. She took it as an opportunity to improve training and guidelines for the squad.
Among the findings: Officers should add more detail to their arrests reports and interview more witnesses at the scene of DUI arrests.
"It can be as simple as 'where have you been and who were you with,'" said Nick Cox, a member of the review team. He said reports written by officers need more information to help judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys.
Cox said, overall, "we found the practices of TPD officers to be good."
The team also recommended that TPD officers record the entire DUI stop from start to finish on their dash camera systems. Chief Castor endorsed the recommendation, noting that officers currently only record the field sobriety tests.
The sobriety tests themselves were also a focus of improvement. Officers will now conduct more than just one field sobriety test.
The chief says the department handbook is being updated to reflect changes to TPD policy. DUI officers will also take an online course, and be required to pass a written test.
The chief appeared ready to put the DUI setup scandal behind her.
"It is a new day for our DUI unit," she insisted. "They are revitalized and excited. They were demoralized by the embarrassing incident last year."
Sgt. Ray Fernandez was fired after he lied to the chief during the investigation into the DUI setup of attorney Phil Campbell. Campbell represented MJ Todd Schnitt in Schnitt's defamation case against radio rival Bubba the Love Sponge, in what came to be known as the Shock Jock Trial.
A special prosecutor dropped the charges against Campbell.
The FBI is still investigating whether Campbell's civil rights were violated by the set up DUI setup.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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