St Augustine Police: In search of accreditation

To quote the band AC/DC, “It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.”

The St Augustine Police Department has long carried the stigma that came from a lack of accreditation.  The St Johns County Sheriff’s Office has national and state accreditation which it achieved under the watch of the late sheriff, Neil J. Perry.  The St Augustine Beach Police Department has state accreditation from the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation, which is less expensive, less demanding, and involves less scrutiny than national accreditation.

Under the last three chiefs of police and two city managers, Historic City News has reported as the City of St Augustine made “false starts” and premature announcements that it began the process of accreditation; but, this time, the city has hired a new employee who grew up here, and has achieved a Master of Public Administration degree, and whose assignment fills the new position of “Accreditation Manager”.

Jennifer L. Smalls, who has been hired for this position, is a 1986 graduate of St. Augustine High School.  She earned a Bachelor of Sociology degree from Bethune Cookman College and a Master of Public Administration degree from Clark Atlanta University.

Of Smalls’ 20+ years of public sector experience, more than 10 years was spend in Public Safety with the Atlanta Police Department, Atlanta’s Fire and Rescue, and the Atlanta Department of Corrections.

The goals of the Accreditation Manager are to help get the City of St. Augustine Police Department accredited through the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation, and to help set up a platform to maintain that accreditation; keeping the St. Augustine Police Department policies updated and in line with state and federal regulations.

Chief of Police Barry Fox, and, recently Assistant Chief of Police Anthony Cuthbert have graduated the executive training program at the FBI National Academy; resulting in a high degree of professional training for the top two leaders of the police department.  With assistance from Smalls, perhaps this time the department will reach the top by achieving recognition from the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation.

Cuthbert was not available Friday afternoon, but Fox was quoted in an October 2018 local media interview explaining what he and city manager John P Regan, Sr. saw as the most recent reasons for the delay in pursuing accreditation — a process that takes at least one year’s time to achieve.

At that time, Fox and Regan blamed, among other things, police attention diverted to protests led by Gainesville resident Ronald Rawls, Jr., over the presence of an 1872 cenotaph recognizing Civil War veterans whose families lived in St Augustine.  In 1879, with assistance from the Ladies Memorial Association of St Augustine, the obelisk was relocated to the Plaza de la Constitucion where it has been peacefully seated for 140 years.

Also blamed for accreditation delays were community concerns regarding homelessness and panhandling in the downtown area.  Apparently, the money allotted for Smalls’ position was used to hire two additional officers to focus on policing a new aggressive panhandling ordinance. 

A volunteer group of citizens have formed a neighborhood watch, acting as additional eyes and ears for local police, observing and reporting violations of the ordinance and other laws pertaining to illegal vagrant activity downtown.  The police department has resisted the assistance of the Vagrant Watch Facebook Group; recently going so far as to arrest one of the leaders while they walked across an outdoor patio on the south end of the Lightner Museum building.  Although she was forced to spend a night in jail, a judge released the 63-year-old administrator on her own recognizance the next morning, and the State Attorney threw out the city police officer’s charges within a week.

Recent hurricanes and other issues in the city were also blamed for having diverted resources.

To get this ball rolling, Fox said the department is sending Smalls off for training in Tallahassee next month.  As soon as she gets back, Fox told local reporters that the application will be submitted.  At that point, they will have one year to make sure everything is in order before Accreditation Commission members are selected to make the required on-site inspections.