Did Pasco deputy academy cut corners?

Dade City, Florida -- In Pasco County, some residents are wondering if their most recent crop of deputies are, in fact, the best of the best.

That's because the local law enforcement academy that supplies recruits to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office is under scrutiny by state law enforcement for allegedly cutting corners.

"Yeah, I want to know that they know their job," said Lynne Harris-Barrett, who lives in Dade City.

Should Harris-Barrett and other residents of Pasco County be concerned about the level of training received by their newest batch of deputies?

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement recently contacted Pasco Hernando State College, where a large percentage of Pasco deputies get their law enforcement academy training.

The inquiry, dated June 23rd, raises questions based on an informant complaint. An Advanced and Specialized Training Coordinator raising questions about tests recently being fixed to help students graduate, incorrect scoring on firearms qualifications, and instructors being absent so often that classes were being led by less qualified substitutes or even canceled.

At this point, the FDLE letter is asking the school to conduct its own internal investigation and then get back to them with its findings. Until, then the school is declining to comment.

"I'd want to know that whatever they do it's going to keep me safe," said long-time resident Gloria Hughes.

Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco says he's known about troubles at PHSC, but he assures the public that his deputies, regardless of the academy they attend, must also complete six weeks of training and intense scrutiny by field training officers.

"At any moment, if we feel that person is not the right fit to be a Pasco deputy, they're automatically removed from the Pasco Sheriff's office," said Nocco.

So how does PHSC stack- up versus other law enforcement academies which the Pasco Sheriff's Office draws its recruits from?

According to figures provided by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, in the last year, PCSO had 46 PHSC academy grads join the agency. Of those, 18 have passed the field training officer phase, 25 were still in various stages of the program, and three have failed.

For the Withlacoochee Police Academy, 26 joined the agency. Of those, six passed the FTO program, 17 were still in various stages of the program, one resigned, one failed, and one was terminated.

For the St. Pete College Academy, six joined the agency. Of those, two passed and four were still in various stages of the program.

For the Hillsborough Community College Academy, 12 joined the Pasco SO. Of those, 7 passed, four were still in various stages of the program, and one failed.

From other miscellaneous academies or those having prior law enforcement agency experience, there were 14 recruits joining the agency. Of those, 3 passed, seven were still in various stages of the program, and four had failed.

The sheriff's solution is to have his own people working within the Academy at PHSC to better ensure quality control.

"We would put somebody in there to run the day to day operations," he said.

But so far, the school, says Nocco, has resisted that suggestion.

If PCSO can't some to an agreement with the school by October 1, Sheriff Nocco says his department will likely begin recruiting from other academies around the state.

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