BRADENTON -- With a change in leadership for the Bradenton Police Department just a couple months away, the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation says it is not concerned that the department has opted to allow its accreditation to lapse.
Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said he made the decision to allow for a thorough examination of the department and its procedures as he prepares to hand the reins over to a new police chief yet to chosen.
In a letter dated March 23, Radzilowski wrote the CFA asking for an extension for the department's assessment for the accreditation process.
On April 25, however, Radzilowski announced to the department that he had decided to retire at the end of the year, allowing the city time to find a replacement.
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By June, the CFA said it received a call to say the department was opting out of the accreditation process.
On July 27, the Bradenton Police Department's state accreditation officially expired.
"I want to start from fresh, just like we didn't have accreditation to see if we can do anything better," Radzilowski said this week.
But the department still meets the 260 standards for policing set by the CFA, he said.
Radzilowski said the goal is for "the new chief and, more importantly, the community to have confidence in what we are doing."
By taking a closer look at all policies and procedures, Radzilowski hopes to identify areas that can be improved or where money can be saved.
"We are just trying to make ourselves better," he said. "It sounds likes a win-win to me."
There are currently 150 law enforcement agencies in the state that are accredited by the CFA, but it is an optional process, explained CFA Executive Director Lori Mizell.
"We have many agencies that are not participating in our process and that are still very professionally run agencies," Mizell said.
Although Bradenton police elected to allow a lapse, Mizell said the CFA was informed of the department's intention to restart the process.
"We have always had a great working relationship with Bradenton," Mizell said. "So we are not concerned at all."
Departments benefit by the accreditation process, by having an objective entity come in and ensure they have various policies and procedures in place and that they are in written form. It also ensures that practices coincide with the department's policies and procedures.
Bradenton is not the first or only police agency to forgo state accreditation or to stop the reaccreditation process.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is not accredited through the state currently, and recently the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office withdrew from the process, Mizell said.
Common reasons law enforcement agencies choose to allow a lapse in accreditation, according to Mizell, are: a change in leadership; a lack of resources; or a loss of accreditation manager.
One of the reasons cited by Radzilowski in March for requesting an extension was that the department had gone through three reassignments of the accreditation manager position in 14 months. He also cited the departure of several high-level command staffers with the knowledge of the process.
Two of the four people listed as key agency personnel in the department's last on-site assessment report in 2012 are no longer with the department. Former Deputy Chief Warren Merriman, a member of the accreditation team, was fired earlier this year; and Lt. Nicol Miller, then the accreditation manager, has since retired.
Other personnel who also would have been unavailable for the process were Capt. William Fowler, who attended a 10-week summer session of the FBI Academy; and the department's IT specialist who was on leave because of the birth of a child.
But Councilman Patrick Roff said he is concerned that the Bradenton City Council was not informed of the decision.
"It's not just me, but the feeling is that this is just something that should have been shared with the council," Roff said.
Roff was especially surprised to not be informed of the decision after having just come out of the budget process.
But Mayor Wayne Poston, who also is the city's police commissioner, said they decided that with new leadership coming in, it would be a good opportunity to take a deeper look at the process. With that, policies and procedures are also being updated, he added.
While recognizing that the council approves funding for the department, Poston disagreed that it was something the council needed to be informed of.
"This is not a council decision, I am the police commissioner and he is the police chief," Poston said. "It's not their job."
Poston said he is confident the department meets all 260 standards required by the CFA for accreditation.
"Accreditation is one thing, but how our department performs is another," Poston said. "We are still out there protecting our residents."
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.