This is the blog for Robert Vincent, Chief of Police for the Gulfport (Florida) Police Department. Please feel free to leave comments, but keep in mind that anything appearing on this page may be subject to retention and disclosure in accordance with Florida public records law.

Please keep your posts clean and respectful. Comments are subject to review, and I do not permit lewdness, obscenity, or personal attacks.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Where Was I Last Week?

I worked most of last week for the City of Auburndale. On Gulfport’s dime. Yes, that’s correct, but before you call for my termination, let me explain.
Since 2000, the Gulfport Police Department has been an accredited law enforcement agency. For most of that time, I have been serving as an assessor for the accreditation commission. That means that, once or twice a year, I go to other agencies and work as part of a team of three who conduct an in-depth review to ensure that policies and operations are in line with industry best practices.
The assessment team evaluates compliance with hundreds of standards covering everything from employment and discipline practices to evidence collection and storage. Typically, the agency being evaluated pays for lodging and per diem, while the assessor’s employing agency pays the salary during the time of the assessment. This is a mutual arrangement in that, when GPD is up for review, we get our assessors the same way.
To be clear, there is no obligation for Gulfport to provide assessors to other agencies; it’s a completely voluntary move on our part, and we would get our assessors even if we didn’t return the favor. So why do it? Well, other than the fact that it’s the right thing to do, there are tremendous operational benefits. Every time I return from an assessment, I have a list in hand of things I want to look at back home. The diversity of people and places in this state mean that there are many, many variations on how to get the job done. If I were to rely solely on my own experiences here in Gulfport, I would be severely limiting my opportunities.
In this case, for example, I am “stealing” from Auburndale their forms for documenting employee orientation and for providing notice to an employee about an internal affairs investigation. Theirs are the best I’ve seen in my years of doing assessments, and I want to use them to improve our own processes.
I do not limit this exposure to my own office. To ensure that this kind of knowledge reaches our police department on a broader level, I require that both of my lieutenants serve as accreditation assessors as well. Between the three of us, we visit between five and six other law enforcement agencies every year. This keeps us up to speed on how things are being done around the state, and it opens up contacts and resources that prove beneficial on a regular basis.
Accreditation is a tremendously valuable program in other ways as well. Some have argued against it, suggesting that a good police administrator could do the same things without the fancy name and expense. I suppose there is some truth to this. I could simply tell you that GPD is a professional agency with up-to-date policies, well-trained personnel, and procedures for accountability. Or, you could hear it from an independent team of experts whose report is vetted publicly by a commission of government executives. No matter the perspective, there is much more value in the latter of these two alternatives.
The accreditation process also establishes a very good system of checklists and reminders that make it much easier for me to ensure that we are doing things the right way. Without them, I would need extra staff to develop and keep track of audits, inspections, personnel actions, and litany of other behind-the-scenes activities that ensure you, the citizens, are getting the best service possible for the least possible cost.
Gulfport just completed an assessment earlier this year, and we were awarded our fourth reaccreditation certificate. We will be assessed again in February of 2015. When that time comes, if we prove once again that we have complied with the standards and our policies, GPD will become one of a very few in the state recognized as an “excelsior” law enforcement agency. To qualify, an agency must be reaccredited five consecutive times without conditions. Such recognition is the result of no less than sixteen years’ work and commitment to professionalism.
We will be working hard toward achieving this goal in 2015. In the mean time, please let me know of your thoughts on the accreditation process and what it means to you.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Benefits of Local Policing

Since John C. White was appointed city marshal in 1910, Gulfport has had its own officers patrolling the city. Some are wondering if that’s soon to change. In case you haven’t heard the news, St. Pete Beach residents recently voted by an approximate 60/40 margin to allow the city commission to contract law enforcement services to an outside agency. As that vote was taking place, the Gulfport City Council directed its city attorney to draft an ordinance that would strengthen the standing of the police department in Gulfport. With all this going on, lots of people have been asking for my opinion. I thought I would make it easy and just put my thoughts here on the old blog.

First, we should ask why there are so many local police departments in the first place. This kind of arrangement is fairly unique to the United States. Most other countries rely on national or regional police agencies. Here, the founding fathers made it clear that they wanted as much control as possible to be in the hands of the smallest governments possible. They wanted the people, and not the big governments, to have the power. This was the birth of the home rule concept, and local police departments are the most visible embodiment of its application.

“Home Rule” means that the elected body of government for a municipality gets to independently (within the law) determine the direction and application of its resources. The input of the council and administration on these subjects directly affects the well-being of the residents, as well as the reputation of the city as a whole. When it comes to the police department, here are some examples of precisely what that means:

  • Professionalism—Is the law enforcement agency accredited? What are the officer selection standards in terms of education, background, etc? What is the commitment to training employees
  • Operational risk—What sort of weapons do the officers use-rifles, tazers, chemicals, rubber bullets? To what extent are officers permitted to use intermediate weapons? What is the vehicle pursuit policy?
  • Tolerance—what are the enforcement priorities, and how strictly are laws and local regulations enforced?

Regardless of which agency provides law enforcement service, the above factors affect the reputation of the city as a whole. For example, visitors will recall how they are treated by the law enforcement during their trip to Gulfport, and it will not matter what the patch on the uniform says (many won’t even notice or recall). The reputation of the agency has a direct and powerful effect on the reputation of the city, and when the law enforcement services are outsourced, the city has little influence over the agency’s reputation. 

Aside from these broad and far-reaching aspects, maintaining a local police department has more tangible and direct benefits to the residents, businesses, and visitors in the community. Here are some examples:

  • The chief of police is involved in the community. When I spend hours every week engaging with residents, business owners, and community leaders, and when I routinely participate in community events, I build on a nearly twenty year history of direct involvement with Gulfport. That translates directly into how I set priorities and policies for the entire agency. 
  • Because I serve as the chief of the Gulfport Police Department and not simply as a command officer from another agency, I have the power to influence other decision-making entities directly on behalf of the residents of Gulfport. I hold influential positions on the Pinellas Police Standards Council, Tampa Bay Area Chiefs of Police Association, Florida Police Chiefs Association, and law enforcement accreditation authorities. In these capacities, I help to ensure that state and regional policies and best practices are established and maintained with representation from OUR city.
  • Gulfport police officers have an average tenure that fluctuates between eight and ten years IN THE CITY. This means that they have extensive knowledge of the people, places, and politics that influence day to day life in the city. This knowledge gives them a tremendous advantage in recognizing problems, setting response and enforcement priorities, identifying criminal perpetrators, recovering stolen property, and more.
  • The people have direct and efficient access to decision-making authorities. Those with complaints or concerns can easily meet with the chief of police to share ideas or request a grievance. My time is committed to the City of Gulfport and the city’s residents are always my priority.
  • The people have more influence over decision-making authorities. Decisions about policy, personnel actions, equipment, training, and every other aspect of police operations are made entirely by local officials whose interests lie with Gulfport’s 13,000 residents and not the other 986,000 residents of the county. When a resident comes to my office to express a concern, I take into consideration how my response and concurrent decision will affect Gulfport, understanding that my job is subject to the wishes of the people of Gulfport and not Palm Harbor, for example.
Readers should not take away from this message any disparaging or negative opinions of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office or any other law enforcement agency. Sheriff Gualtieri runs an outstanding agency with men and women dedicated to professionalism and service to the residents of Pinellas. My message in this blog post is simply to explain that there are many powerful benefits for a city to maintain its own independent law enforcement.

Before I close, I would like to thank the council and city manager for maintaining a working relationship that allows and encourages me to share my thoughts and ideas directly and publicly in a forum such as this. I’ve learned from colleagues that this is often not the case. 

As always, I do welcome and encourage your feedback.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Pursuit Review

On July 9th, 2012, Gulfport officers were involved in a motor vehicle pursuit that ended when a fleeing criminal drove in front of a bus near the Jordan Park housing complex. From the scene of the crash, I told news reporters that I would thoroughly review the pursuit and that I would also review the policy. I have completed the pursuit review, and I have copied and pasted the text of my report here for all to see (see below). I am doing this because I feel it is important to be completely candid with those we serve.

As far as the review of the policy, I want to make one thing very clear: I have no intention of prohibiting my officers from using every reasonable means available to apprehend auto thieves. This has historically been a crime that has victimized many of our residents, and I believe I echo the community's concerns when I say that our police department should not have a standing policy that prohibits intervention and lets these criminals get away scott free.

The current rules allow pursuits to be INITIATED when an officer has reason to believe the driver of a vehicle has committed a forcible felony, which includes the offense of burglary. The suspect must ALSO exhibit conduct which indicates he or she is an immediate or continuous threat to public safety. The pursuit may be allowed to CONTINUE based on constant review of road & traffic conditions, speed, additional violations, and many other factors. At any point, a supervisor may order that a pursuit be terminated.

Other aspects of the policy may very well be subject to revision. For example, I will likely be adding a component that requires pursuing officers to take into consideration their lack of familiarity with a neighborhood in deciding whether or not to continue a pursuit. I will also be talking with other local agencies to discuss improvement of procedures for interagency operations when pursuits cross into other jurisdictions.

The pursuit review noted four minor violations of agency policy. This is not out of the ordinary. A pursuit is a highly-stressful and rapidly-changing situation that is subject to many and various detailed procedures. It is rare that a pursuit review indicates no violations at all. In this case, despite the minor violations, I believe the officers did a commendable job.

Text of the pursuit review report follows:



To:             File
From:        Chief Vincent
Date:         7/12/12
Re:             Pursuit Review (GP12-13323)

Written Directive 104-A requires an administrative review of all pursuits for the purpose of identifying any violations of policy.  This document is my review of a pursuit that occurred on the evening of 7/9/12. Note—pursuit reviews are normally conducted by the operations commander; since Lt. Stone was actively involved in the pursuit, I am doing it to avoid any conflict of interest.


On 7/9/12, Officer Kellington identified a stolen vehicle and initiated a traffic stop in the area of Gulfport Blvd. and 51st Street. The driver of the vehicle (later apprehended and identified as Derrick Mims) accelerated and took evasive action. Officer Kellington initiated a pursuit that was joined by Officer Iwanowski, Officer Cavanah, and Lieutenant Stone. The pursuit left the city of Gulfport at 11th Avenue and 49th Street South and then remained in the City of St. Petersburg until it ended in a crash approximately 15 minutes later. At one point, Officer Iwanowski took the lead in the pursuit, and they lost sight of the suspect vehicle shortly after. Officer Cavanah then immediately acquired the vehicle and re-initiated the pursuit. The vehicle entered the interstate at 5th Avenue North and I-375, then it merged onto I-275 before exiting at the 28th Street South exit. Upon approaching the Jordan Park neighborhood, the vehicle crashed into a southbound PSTA bus at the intersection of 11th Avenue South and 25th Street. Mims was not seriously injured; one unidentified passenger fled from the scene; the front-seat passenger was seriously injured; and a male toddler was discovered in the vehicle, also apparently uninjured. The PSTA bus left the roadway following the crash and struck an apartment building on the southeast corner. The building was unoccupied at the time. One occupant of the bus was transported to the hospital for possible injuries. St. Petersburg Police will be completing the traffic crash investigation and report.

Policy Requirements

Police department written directive 104-A regulates pursuits.  The following is a list of required actions (in italics), followed by my conclusion for each action.

  1. Only sworn personnel may be involved in the pursuit:
The following personnel were involved in the pursuit; all are sworn officers and none had passengers in their vehicles:

Officer Jesse Kellington, Officer Eva Iwanowski, Officer David Cavanah, Lt. Joshua Stone

  1. Officer has reasonable grounds to believe suspect committed a forcible felony AND either imminent or continued threat to the public:
The officers’ pursuit was based on evidence that the driver committed at least one (likely more) forcible felony and that his driving behavior constituted an imminent threat to public safety. The conditions warranted a pursuit in accordance with this provision of the policy.

  1. Only primary and up to two officers to be engaged in active pursuit unless directed by a supervisor; vehicle will maintain a safe following distance:
Officer Kellington was initially the primary pursuit unit, and he was followed at safe distances by Officer Cavanah, and Lieutenant Stone. Later, Officer Iwanowski joined the pursuit, increasing the number of actively-involved units to four. Officer Iwanowski should not have become actively involved, but upon seeing that she did so, Lieutenant Stone, who was driving an unmarked vehicle that is not intended by its manufacturer for use in police pursuits, should have relinquished his involvement to her.

  1. No units not involved in the pursuit will leave area of assigned responsibility unless directed to do so by a supervisor:
Only those units involved in the pursuit left their assigned areas of responsibility.

  1. Initiating Officer to inform dispatch that a pursuit is taking place and to provide dispatch with vehicle license plate, description, direction of travel:
Officer Kellington immediately notified dispatch that he was in pursuit, and he provided all of the required information.

  1. Primary officer to continuously monitor and evaluate road & traffic conditions, speed, weather:
See notes under #13 below.

  1. Officer to develop and implement a plan to terminate the pursuit
    1. PIT only by officers trained to do so
    2. Roadblocks are prohibited
Approximately two minutes into the pursuit, Officer Kellington indicated his intent to attempt a PIT maneuver. This was unsuccessful. Approximately two minutes later, when it was clear the suspect vehicle was pulling away from him, Officer Kellington requested air support. Approximately two minutes later, a Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy indicated he would be setting a spike strip in the path of the pursuit. The suspect vehicle turned prior to this point, however. There was never an opportunity to set up a box-in. It was clear that the plan was to arrange visual contact by air support and then terminate the pursuit, but the helicopter did not establish contact before the suspect vehicle crashed.

  1. Police vehicle to have lights and siren activated continuously
All police vehicles continuously had lights and sirens activated during the pursuit.

  1. Unmarked vehicle to relinquish to marked vehicle
At one point during the pursuit, Officer Iwanowski passed Officer Kellington and took the lead role while Kellington slowed for traffic congestion. She maintained this role until losing sight of the suspect vehicle and did not relinquish the lead position despite the fact that she was operating an unmarked patrol car.

  1. Officer may not pursue the wrong way on a divided roadway
Neither the suspect vehicle nor any of the pursuing vehicles ever drove the wrong way on a divided highway.

  1. Officer to continuously update communications center of the progress of the pursuit
Officer Kellington provided continuous updates regarding speed, direction of travel, road and traffic conditions, etc.

When Officer Cavanah re-initiated the pursuit, he also continuously provided updated information.

  1. Officer must abandon pursuit under any of the following:
    1. When ordered to do so by a supervisor
    2. Upon losing visual contact with the violator
    3. Upon losing radio contact with the communications center
    4. When the threat to public safety no longer exists
Officers Iwanowski and Kellington abandoned their pursuit upon losing visual contact with the violator. Officer Cavanah never lost sight of the vehicle once he re-initiated the pursuit. None of the other circumstances occurred during this pursuit.

  1. Officer to give strong consideration to abandoning pursuit under any of the following:
    1. Pursuit enters congested area and creates unreasonable hazard to the public
    2. Visibility, road, or weather conditions limit the probability of a safe and successful conclusion to the pursuit.
    3. The violator can be identified to the point that later apprehension can be made
    4. Aircraft has visual contact with the violator
Items B-C were never factors in this pursuit. There were three points at which it is evident the pursuit   entered a congested area where abandonment may have been considered. However, the pursuit went through these areas and back into uncongested areas each time. The brevity of these instances was such that the increased risk was over before abandonment could have occurred.

The first point at which abandonment would have been appropriate was when the suspect vehicle approached the Jordan Park housing complex. However, the fleeing vehicle crashed BEFORE it entered the complex, and there was insufficient time for Officer Cavanah to recognize and evaluate the conditions. It should be noted that he is not familiar with that neighborhood and was unaware that the route of the fleeing vehicle was leading to the housing complex.

  1. All officers to continuously operate vehicles in a safe and prudent manner:
Evidence indicates Officer Iwanowski was at one point travelling at 100 miles per hour on 1st Avenue South and near 28th Street North. The posted speed limit is 40 miles per hour. At this point, she was trying to catch up to the pursuit that already had Officer Kellington, Officer Cavanah, and Lieutenant Stone actively involved. Such speed was not justified in consideration of the fact that there were already three officers (maximum allowed under the policy) in active pursuit.

It should be noted that, although not justified, Officer Iwanowski’s speed at this point did not in itself constitute unsafe driving. Firs Avenue is a multi-lane, one-way street with timed signals and clear visibility. Traffic at the time was not congested.

At all other points during the pursuit, officers operated their vehicles in a reasonably safe manner.

  1. Officer must complete a pursuit form and a report  before the end of the tour of duty
The pursuit form and reports from all officers involved were submitted in a timely manner.

  1. Patrol supervisor decides whether pursuit should remain on primary channel or switch to alternate channel
The decision was made to keep the channel on Patrol-1 and restrict that channel to the units involved in the pursuit.

  1. Supervisor to assume command of and constantly evaluate pursuit and maintain communication with pursuing officer(s):
There was some confusion as to who had responsibility for command. Sgt. Farrand was in charge of the patrol squad and is Officer Kellington’s immediate supervisor. However, since Lt. Stone was on duty and actively involved in the pursuit, she was of the opinion he was assuming command. This confusion actually had no bearing on the pursuit, as both supervisors indicated they continuously monitored the conditions and felt no reason to order the pursuit terminated.

  1. Supervisor to verify proper number of officers involved in the pursuit, proper radio frequency used, affected jurisdictions notified:
See notes on #3 above.

  1. Supervisor to respond to the scene of termination of pursuit if injuries result:
The pursuit ended in a crash that resulted in injuries. Both Lt. Stone and Sgt. Farrand responded to the scene.

  1. Notify on-call lieutenant, dependant on time of day, if pursuit leaves the city of Gulfport
Lt. Stone was involved in the pursuit, and he did contact me (Chief Vincent) at the conclusion of the pursuit.

  1. The supervisor shall complete a report and forward to division commander:
Lt. Stone’s report was completed and submitted in a timely manner.

Reviewer’s Actions

My review consisted of the following actions:

  1. I observed the video from the police cruisers involved in the pursuit (evidence).
  2. I reviewed and obtained copies of the relevant offense report.
  3. I reviewed and obtained a copy of the radio transmissions (evidence).
  4. I reviewed GPS records for vehicles involved in the pursuit.

Policy Violations

Based on the above determinations, I have determined that the following violations of policy occurred during this pursuit:

Officer Iwanowski:

Written Directive 104-A.10—regarding the requirement for officers operating unmarked vehicles to relinquish close pursuit as soon as possible.

Written Directive 104.10—regarding the requirement to operate police vehicles with due regard for the safety of all persons (noting the unjustified speed on 1st Avenue South)

Lieutenant Stone:

Written Directive 104-A.113—regarding the limitations on units actively involved in a pursuit. Lieutenant Stone should have either terminated his own involvement (preferable since he was operating an unmarked, non-pursuit vehicle) or ordered another officer to terminate involvement.

Written Directive 104-A.10(B)—regarding the prohibition of using vehicles not marketed by their manufacturer for use in pursuits. Lt. Stone was driving a Ford Fusion administrative vehicle which is not designed or intended for use in pursuit driving conditions.


Despite the minor violations noted, the overall performance of the officers in this pursuit was commendable. They exhibited excellent teamwork, good communications skills, and they operated their vehicles in a reasonably safe manner as they made every effort to apprehend a dangerous felon. At the conclusion of the pursuit, they acted appropriately to secure suspects and get medical attention for the injured while coordinating with other agencies for crowd control.

With the exception of the unjustified speeds in the case of Officer Iwanowski (which will result in a notice of counseling), the corrective action regarding the noted violations will be in the form of training that takes place during an after-action discussion that I will personally facilitate.

I also noted during this review that the GPS device in Officer Cavanah’s vehicle was apparently not working during the pursuit. This vehicle (#102) is not normally assigned to him, and he had reported to Sergeant Farrand upon learning that the GPS was not working. I have asked Lieutenant Stone to develop better procedures for more quickly identifying and correcting faulty technology in patrol vehicles. His recommendations are due by 7/30/12.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Thank You Gulfport Businesses

If you've been at the police station recently, you might have noticed our collection of crime prevention publications has improved. We just acquired hundreds of new booklets and pamphlets containing important information on today's most crucial issues (child Internet safety, prescription drug abuse, teenage alcoholism, bicycle safety, and many more).

These publications are produced by LAW Publications, a Texas-based company that specializes in public safety handout material. In addition to making these items available in our lobby, we work with local schools and other community organizations to get them in the hands of those who need them most. Officers also keep a supply in their patrol cars so they can give them to crime victims and other who may be in need.

Such resources, of course, are not cheap, and that is where the title of this blog post comes in. You see, the production of these handouts is based entirely on donations from local businesses. Were it not for their support, this free blog might be the only publication we put out.

Thank you to the following local businesses for helping with this effort:

A-Able Locksmiths, Inc.
5116 Gulfport Blvd
Gulfport, Fl 33707

Can San's
2838 Beach Blvd
Gulfport, Fl 33707

Gulfport Garage, Inc.
2731 Beach Blvd South
Gulfport, Fl 33707

Gulfport Hardware
5006 Gulfport Blvd
Gulfport, Fl 33707

Gulfport Paint Shop, Inc.
1801 49th Street South
Gulfport, FL 33707

Gulfport Veterinarian Hospital
5621 Gulfport Blvd South
Gulfport, FL 33707

Neptune Grill LLC
5501 Shore Blvd South
Gulfport, Fl 33707

Reef Dog, Inc.
2820 Beach blvd
Gulfport, Fl 33707

The Apothecary of Gulfport
2908 Beach Blvd South
Gulfport, FL 33707

The Car Doctor
1099 49th Street
Gulfport, Fl

The Gabber
1419 49th Street South
Gulfport, Fl 33707

Tri J Towing
125-19th Street
St. Pete, Fl 33712

Monday, February 20, 2012

Cops Are Not Above the Law

A recently-published series in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel highlighted several examples of police officers driving at excessive speeds for apparently no legitimate purpose. Their measurements were based on time-over-distance calculations from toll-transponders assigned to take-home police vehicles. In many of the incidents, it appeared the officers were simply commuting to and from work. Speeds were frequently 20-30 miles per hour above the posted limits.

I applaud the police chiefs who have vowed to investigate and discipline officers found to have broken the rules. The fact is that we in law enforcement bear the responsibility of earning the trust and respect of the public; we can't do that by breaking the very rules we expect the public to abide by. Traffic rules are no exception.

To help ensure we are doing our part in Gulfport, we have some policies and procedures in place. These practices hold the police officers accountable to an even higher degree than the general public, which is--in my opinion--exactly how it should be.

1. It is the policy of the Gulfport Police Department to issue a uniform traffic citation to any officer found to be at fault in a traffic crash that meets the reporting requirements under Florida law. This is actually not a common practice among law enforcement agencies. Many defer to administrative discipline, but my position is that every other driver who is at fault in a crash will face some form of consequence other than the traffic ticket; why should cops be any different?

2. Police vehicles and operators are not exempt from our red light photo enforcement program. An officer caught running a light must either pay the violation (and face discipline) or document the circumstances that made the action lawful and justified.

3. All patrol and most other police vehicles are tracked by GPS when moving. Police commanders run periodic reports to check speeds of vehicles to determine if there are issues. Any speeds above the established enforcement thresholds (the same ones applied to the public) can result in disciplinary proceedings unless the officer can document the circumstances that made the action lawful and justified.

If you see one of my police vehicles breaking traffic laws, I want to know about it. Call 893-1030 right away and ask to speak to the supervisor on duty. If you're not satisfied with the results, contact me personally.