BRADENTON -- After a few years of turnover in the Bradenton Police Department, the agency has seen a significant decrease in the number of complaints filed against its employees.
As of this past Wednesday, the Internal Affairs division has investigated nine complaints. This is compared to 24 in 2012; 33 in 2013; and 30 in 2014.
"I think our police department is really much more professional than it has ever been. We've been able to hire well and we've stepped our training to get people the training that they need," said Mayor Wayne Poston, who also is the police commissioner. "People are pretty happy at the police department."
Internal Affairs investigations are launched anytime a complaint is filed against an employee, whether by another employee, the public or anonymously, according to Bradenton police Lt. John Affolter, who took over internal affairs in February.
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"Even if it's anonymous, we investigate," Affolter said. "All complaints are investigated, period."
Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski, who intends to retire in December, said he always sits his new hires down and cautions that they will face discipline if or when necessary.
"Fortunately or unfortunately, I will be remembered as much for praising officers that do good work as dismissing officers for misconduct," Radzilowski said. "I have never hesitated to hold people accountable."
The chief said he hopes the department is seeing fewer complaints because officers are becoming more mature and professional.
"That is the only way to have a professional police department, so that the public can see they are being held accountable," Radzilowski said.
Of the nine internal affairs investigations Bradenton police have conducted this year, three have resulted in disciplinary action. Of those three, two employees were terminated.
Mostly recently, former dispatcher Christopher Liotti was fired after an internal affairs investigation found he had been harassing a fellow dispatcher, according to reports. Liotti is also facing one misdemeanor count of stalking.
In June, former officer Ian Richards was terminated after an internal affairs investigation found that he had filed false reports that he was patrolling one area when in fact was sitting in the parking lot of Manatee Elementary watching movies on his phone, according to internal affairs reports. When first confronted about this by his sergeant, Richards attempted to deceive him, saying that he had been in route to the location he had logged and had just forgot to clear his screen, the report states.
He was seen by the sergeant in the parking lot of Manatee Elementary during which time the patrol was being log, without ever leaving. Video surveillance from the school also confirmed the sergeant's findings.
The only other disciplinary action, came as a result of an incident on April 25 during a traffic stop officer Jonathan Then conducted, according to internal affairs reports. The investigation concluded that Then had told the driver he was a "lazy (expletive)" for having an expired decal on the vehicle's plate, had dropped the driver's license on the ground before driving off and had refused to provide his name and identification number.
Then never denied calling the driver a "lazy (expletive)" and said he was walking to return the driver's license to him when he dropped it on the ground out of frustration after being told "bring it to me (expletive)." He also said he did not provide the driver with his name and identification number because he had already provided to him.
Initially given a 120-hour suspension without pay for the offenses ,which could have resulted in termination, Then appealed the decision and it was reduced to 40 hours without pay.
The Manatee County Sheriff's Office has also seen a reduction in the number of internal affairs investigations, with 38 this year, compared to 100 in 2013 and 110 in 2014.
While Bradenton police have seen fewer internal affairs complaints, the year has seen a total of 16 officer-involved traffic accidents. Of the 16, officers were found to be at fault in six of the crashes.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter@JDeLeon1012.