Shoar sets boundaries for relationship at Beach

Historic City News has obtained a copy of a letter from Sheriff David Shoar to St Augustine Beach Mayor Gary Snodgrass clarifying the somewhat awkward relationship between the two as the city commission still labors to decide the fate of their beleaguered police department.

Since the city commission tackled the high profile in-fighting, back-biting, and lack of professional standards uncovered at the Beach Police Department, the Sheriff’s Office has found itself in an uncomfortable position.

When the St Augustine Beach Commission moved to place its chief, Richard Hedges, on leave and the FDLE was called in to investigate potential criminal misconduct, at the mayor’s request, the Sheriff assigned Regional Chief David Messenger to oversee the continued operation of the agency.

The results of the FDLE investigation into the St Augustine Beach Police Department revealed numerous deficiencies and a concurrent investigation by the Sheriff’s Office led to a report from Undersheriff Joel Bolante that made evidence handling procedures by Beach officers highly suspect.

Shoar, who was recently re-elected to serve a third four-year term, commands a department that in 1991 became the first in Northeast Florida to receive accredited status with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. The Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation granted state accredited status to the Sheriff’s Office in 1996 and the county jail received accreditation in 2004 from the Florida Corrections Accreditation Commission.

The police department operated by the City of St Augustine Beach has no accreditation — the unspoken concern some observers are referring to as “the oversized elephant in the room”, is that Shoar cannot afford to become too closely involved with a department that has the potential to jeopardize the sterling reputation of his own agency.

Sitting commissioners at the Beach disagree on the proper course for the small, police department that some in the community feel is more of a liability than an asset. Police officers within the department and sheriff’s deputies disagree. Residents, politicians and city employees don’t seem to agree, either.

Shoar said that the needs of the beach community were his first concern — but he took the opportunity to draw some lines. First, Shoar reassured Snodgrass that if the size of the police department is reduced, in accordance with the commission’s July 16th decision, the resources from the Sheriff’s Office devoted to the municipality would increase to ensure adequate law enforcement coverage.

There are ten areas the Sheriff identified that he feels the Beach Police is not adequately proficient to handle on their own and where he will retain oversight:

1. Continue to respond to calls for service and provide “back-up” support for police.
2. Continue to conduct complex investigations that are time and resource intensive.
3. Continue to conduct “internal affairs” investigations when indicated.
4. Continue to provide evidence support to line personnel.
5. Continue to collect, store and manage evidence.
6. Continue to receive calls for police service and dispatch police officers.
7. Continue to provide specialty teams i.e. hostage negotiation, dive, SWAT, etc.
8. Continue to provide “in-service” training for police officers.
9. Continue to provide records management support.
10. Continue to provide information technology support.

Further, the Sheriff said he will continue to provide the ten enumerated services “until such time as your police department is positioned to assume them”.

Some vocal supporters of maintaining the cost of a local police department argue that the 1.9-square-mile community is inadequately protected without the approximately 15 sworn officers. According to Shoar, there are some folks who are confused by the use of the term “blended” to describe scenarios the Sheriff has in mind as the Beach works through its problems.

“I want to be very clear about our role in law enforcement efforts in your jurisdiction,” Shoar wrote. Shoar observed that when the mayor uses the term “blended” to describe the relationship contemplated, it somehow implies that the City has a choice of whether or not to “blend” the services of the Sheriff’s Office with the police department.

To put a fine point on that misconception, Shoar wrote, “This of course is wrong.” The Office of Sheriff is constitutionally required to provide law enforcement services to all the citizens of St Johns County — even when a municipality forms their own police department.

However, when it comes to law enforcement, the Sheriff is the chief executive in the county — not a municipal police chief. From the day St Augustine Beach decided to establish their own police department through the exercise of “home rule” rights, there has existed a “blended” approach to law enforcement with augmentation of services from the sheriff.

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