Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Police Nonprofit Gains Key Support

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Police Nonprofit Gains Key Support

Article excerpt

SARASOTA

A fledgling police foundation that faced sharp criticism when it was unveiled last month has won unanimous support from the City Commission.

Organizers of the Sarasota Police Foundation Inc. said last week that they might shelve plans for reviving the nonprofit without political support from City Hall. The foundation, meant to support the Police Department through grants and private donors, had been blasted by the mayor and by First Amendment advocates as soon as it was announced.

Monday, the organization's leaders made their case publicly at City Hall, and commissioners responded with a unanimous statement in support of the fund-raising group.

"Welcome to 21st-century policing," said City Commissioner Suzanne Atwell. She said the foundation could help supplement an always-strained police budget, and even suggested organizing a Sarasota Policeman's Ball. "I'd love to see us all dancing under a disco ball in the name of public safety."

In a reversal, Mayor Shannon Snyder also praised the foundation, after last month calling it a potential "slush fund" for Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino.

On Monday, Snyder said those concerns had been addressed.

"I think we avoided some issues that we could have run into," he said. "I support it."

The City Commission unanimously approved a statement endorsing the foundation, with some conditions. The endorsement assumes that the city will not enter into any contracts with the foundation for goods or services, that no city employee or official has significant involvement in it, and that the department does not delegate any authority or decisions to it.

All of those conditions are meant to keep the nonprofit separate from public money and authority, and if they are met, said City Attorney Bob Fournier, it is likely that the nonprofit will not be subject to the Sunshine Law.

Most similar nonprofits are not, being private organizations.

In more than 200 cities across the country, police foundations operate generally without controversy, paying for equipment and training that is not in city budgets, according to national police experts. …

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