CRESTVIEW — What he calls his “observation and evaluation phase” almost complete, Police Chief Tony Taylor, who took office in October, is preparing to implement procedural and structural changes he believes will make the agency more responsive to Hub City residents’ needs and simultaneously will prepare the force for accreditation.
“It’s not just going in and making a few modifications,” Taylor told the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce Government Issues Committee at its Nov. 14 meeting. “It’s making cultural changes from the ground up.”
Planned changes include implementing a new command structure to replace the current organizational chart that dates from 1997, and practically rewriting the department’s policy manual, some parts of which stem from the 1980s, Taylor said.
“The policy manual is going to be an integral part of changing the culture of the Crestview Police Department,” Taylor said.
Taylor plans to implement benchmarks for assessors from the independent Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation as it evaluates the department once it applies for accreditation, he said.
“Accreditation professionalizes the agency and makes it more respected,” Taylor said. “It’s a lot of work.”
Taylor is no stranger to conducting a law enforcement agency through the accreditation process. While a senior officer at the Fort Walton Beach Police Department, he implemented new standards and procedures leading to the department’s accreditation.
Taylor will use the Fort Walton Beach force’s manual as a basis for the Crestview police manual. The accreditation commission cited his guidelines as an example for other departments seeking certification.
Taylor said he also wants better communications within the department, instituting an open-door policy while addressing the problem of rumors that circulate hallways at the department’s Whitehurst Municipal Building headquarters.
“Law enforcement agencies, as far as rumors and gossip go, are worse than hair salons,” Taylor said to laughter. “I don’t like rumors and gossip. Rumors and gossip have the potential to destroy the foundation of the organization and ruin its integrity. My philosophy with rumors and gossip is to hit it head on.”
Saying, “I want to get connected with the community,” Taylor introduced several programs and revised policies he wants to implement. Among his ideas are:
• Hosting an officer-instructed citizens’ police academy.
“The interest I have seen generated with our officers to teach this class is phenomenal. These guys are chomping at the bits to make this connection with the community,” Taylor said. “You’re not going to get a gun and a badge but you’ll get a good understanding of how your police force works.”
• Holding “conversations with the chief,” hosted by area restaurants and businesses, to facilitate reaching out to the community rather than waiting for residents to come to police headquarters.
“Members of the community and our police officers are full of great ideas,” Taylor said. “We need to listen to them and act on them.”
• Opening police headquarters at all hours.
“In order for us to be connected with the community, we have to be open to the community,” he said. “We have officers out there 24 hours a day, but our facility is not available 24 hours a day. …You should be able to walk into the police department 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We want you to walk in whenever you have a concern.”
Taylor said his plans, including returning a revamped and retrained replacement for the disbanded Street Crimes Unit to the streets of town and expanding community policing, wouldn’t happen overnight.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day. Bear with me,” he said. “We’re going to get these things done as quickly as we can, but we’re going to do it efficiently and thoroughly.”
However, he promised, a new and invigorated — and accredited — Crestview Police Department will emerge from the restructuring.
“I can’t form partnerships with the community until my own house is in order,” Taylor said.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.