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Palm Coast Monday, Nov. 21, 2016 2 years ago

LETTERS: Should Flagler County deputies be required to pass a physical fitness test?

If the military can do it, why can't the Sheriff's Office? Also: Union defends status quo

If the military can do it, so can the Sheriff's Office

Dear Editor:

I just got done reading your article, “Fit for Duty,” in the Nov. 17 Palm Coast, and I found it very interesting and disappointing at the same time.

Before I go into my thoughts, I do want to say that I am a staunch supporter of law enforcement, and they have my utmost respect. They have a difficult job to do, and in these days and ages, it is even more difficult, which is why I think this issue is even more important today than any other time.

Now, saying that, I understand the concerns of Sheriff-elect Rick Staly and others about the dangers of a footrace, but I very much disagree on the stance and reasons that the Police Benevolent Association gives for not having physical fitness standards.

I was in the military, and, as everyone knows, they do have standards that are strictly adhered to. Every soldier goes through a physical fitness test at least once a year. The judgment on who passes or fails on a physical fitness test is in black and white as an Army regulation. It is not up to interpretation.

These standards must be met for a soldier to stay in the Army.

The older the soldier gets, the less they are required to do to meet those standards. The body fat index standard also slides as they get older.

I strongly believe we should mandate a minimum requirement once a year for a fitness test for all of our officers, as well.

I have seen the shape of some of our officers. It’s not good. I am not out to embarrass anyone or body-shame anyone with this next statement, but I would be curious to see pictures of all of our deputies to see what kind of shape they are in.

An officer doesn’t have to win every footrace, but he should at least have a fighting chance to do so.

If Rick Staly was really serious and wanted to not only help our community and the health of our officers, he would immediately work with the PBA to get a program instituted that would require officers to meet a minimum standard.

In the long run, everyone benefits from this: We have a fit Sheriff’s Office that we can depend on, with an added benefit of lower health care costs for both the county and the individual officers.

It is a no-brainer and win-win for everyone.

Tony Fabrizio

Palm Coast


'Fit for Duty' story only raises questions about an issue that doesn't exist

Dear Editor:

I recently read an article you wrote for the Nov. 17 edition of the Palm Coast Observer, in which you raised concerns regarding the physical fitness of Deputy Austin Chewning after observing him giving chase to a suspect at the Flagler County Courthouse. As the vice president of the Coastal Florida Police Benevolent Association, I felt compelled to address a few matters with you directly after reading this article.

First, I’d like to address the pursuit itself. As you alluded to in your article, pursuits are dangerous endeavors, whether in a vehicle or on foot. It is almost always prudent for a deputy to refrain from a full-on foot pursuit after a suspect. Protocol and experience dictate that a deputy use the tools at his disposal to establish a perimeter and locate the suspect using search teams, K9 assistance and air support.

All of these tools greatly diminish the risk to the deputy and the risk to the general public — as well as the risk to the suspect. All-out foot pursuits without further thought are, and should be, discouraged.

It is also worth pointing out that Deputy Chewning knew the offender that was fleeing from him. This fact made it possible for Deputy Chewning to seek arrest warrants for the offender and then apprehend him at a later time, with more resources and in a scenario that was tactically favorable to law enforcement. 

When researching this subject matter, one would need to request the Sheriff’s Office’s policy regarding use of force (General Order 022), which outlines considerations a deputy should make regarding subject factors before engaging in any use of force. For clarification, a foot pursuit is a form of "force" for the purposes of this discussion. A primary factor to consider when deciding whether or not to engage in a pursuit of any kind, is whether or not the offender is known to law enforcement. Other factors include, to name a few: threat posed to the general public, whether or not suspect has weapons, the nature of the charge the suspect is wanted for, the perceived physical abilities of the suspect, etc.

To say that the union "doesn't allow" physical assessments is misleading. To be fair, Sheriff Jim Manfre and his administration have never asked the union to "allow it." Formal physical assessments, as explained by Mike Scudiero, can be misused by administrations and used to target employees.

There is no clear-cut way to evaluate a deputy's physical ability in an objective way. A deputy's physical ability is assessed every single day that they are at work; wearing 30 pounds of gear and participating in numerous activities that are physically exhaustive.

Supervisors are empowered to document any performance deficiencies and to recommend remedial training to fix deficiencies where necessary.

Deputy Chewning, in spite of your personal observations about his physical stature, is a model deputy. He is kind, compassionate and incredibly dedicated. He is by far one of the most motivated and promising young deputies at the Flagler County Sheriff 's Office, and your biased, surface-level evaluation of his abilities is shameful. Your public humiliation of him without proper research was even more so.

Your article referenced the fact that Deputy Chewning was built like "a lineman on a football team." I remind you that a football team would not be successful without their linemen. Just like a football team, law enforcement requires a team of people with varying strengths and abilities to allow us to get this job done safely and efficiently. Deputy Chewning's decisions in this case demonstrated maturity, responsibility and restraint — qualities that are highly coveted in a law enforcement professional.

We are fortunate in Flagler County to not have had any plight between law enforcement and the community we serve. This is because of the positive and understanding attitude of the community, as well as the professional, responsible behavior of law enforcement.

An article like this serves only to raise questions in the minds of citizens about an issue that doesn't even really exist.

I hope that you will publish this letter with the same publicity with which you defamed Deputy Chewning. I would ask that you come shadow a deputy for a 12-hour shift so you can learn more and your next article can have better perspective  than this one did.

Jon Dopp

Senior vice president

Coastal Florida PBA/PEA


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