Debate Continues Over true intentions of reducing beach police

By Sarah Worthington |

Sixteen officers will lose their jobs in January as part of the restructuring plan for the St. Augustine Beach Police Department.

The choice to alter the department was voted on earlier this summer by the City Commission, with the support of Mayor S. Gary Snodgrass. The decision followed allegations of unethical and possible unlawful conduct against Chief Richard Hedges and Assistant Chief Daniel Decoursey, charges that were brought to light by 11 of the 14 rank and file officers in the department.

An investigation this summer into the allegations against Hedges exonerated him. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, or FDLE, investigated the claims and in late May found that the department had obvious organizational and accounting discrepancies.

The restructuring of the St. Augustine Beach Police Department, or SABPD, will blend the department with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s office. There will be one chief, one sergeant and five officers at the beach who will cooperate on calls with St. John’s County officers.

That’s not enough for some beach residents, though. Beach resident and Chairman of the Beautification Advisory and Tree Board, Hester Longstreet, doesn’t agree with the circumstances of how the idea of blending the departments came about.

“The commission didn’t get input from citizens… They [beach police officers] put their jobs on the line to expose the mismanagement of the Chief and the Assistant Chief. They [City Commissioners] never questioned the Chief. Now, the Commissioners are concerned,” said Longstreet.

Inspector General Alfred L. Dennis of the FDLE concluded an investigation into the SABPD, and in a letter written to St. Johns County Sherriff David Shoar last June, Dennis detailed the errors. These errors included allegations of missing evidence and evidence that had not been properly logged, including in-custody firearms taken by the SABPD. The letter stated that, “…an accurate, documented accounting of evidentiary and in-custody property held by the SABPD does not exist.”

The city remains split on the decision to blend the beach department with the Sheriff’s office. Snodgrass cites many reasons for this choice, including saving money. He said that hundreds of thousands of dollars could be saved with this blended plan and could potentially provide dividends to the City of St. Augustine Beach.

“The number one priority is ensuring public safety,” Snodgrass said. “The blended approach to law enforcement services will ensure both local community policing and enhanced services from the Sheriff’s Office with equal or better law enforcement coverage for the City.”

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