Advisory board assigned to Lakeland PD sex scandal

8:32 PM, Jul 12, 2013   |    comments
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Susan Eberle (center) has reluctantly become the face of the sex scandal rocking the Lakeland Police department. With her husband Ed (left) clutching her hand for support, Eberle decided to go public, announcing through her attorney (right) that they had filed charges with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Florida Commission on Human rights.
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Lakeland, FL -- There's been an intervention, of sorts, at Lakeland Police Department.

An advisory commission has been assigned to oversee what's happening at the department which has been rocked by a sex scandal. Their hope is that the outside panel can restore public confidence.

Critics of the department will likely say it's long overdue, but Police Chief Lisa Womack says she welcomes another set of eyes and ears to try to end a scandal the city's mayor called a "national embarrassment".

See also: Woman at center of LPD sex scandal comes forward

Womack started the day by meeting in Bartow with Polk State Attorney Jerry Hill. It was Hill's office that issued a report and scathing criticism of Lakeland PD that first brought aspects of the department's sex scandal to light.

Womack arrived at the meeting with Robert Puterbaugh -- a private, city-hired attorney -- suggesting there may be more to it than a chance to mend fences.

But Womack says Puterbaugh stayed outside the room while she and Hill discussed a wide-range of topics including the internal investigation.

"It was was a positive meeting," said Chief Womack.

But by late afternoon, it was clear things would be changing at Lakeland PD.

Mayor Gow Fields unveiled an independent Police Advisory Commission made up of business and former political leaders.

They'll have 30 days to observe the department and report back to the mayor's office, and then another 30 - 60 days to make recommendations aimed at regaining public trust.

"We are as embarrassed and ashamed just as anyone else. We're not proud of the national attention that's come as a result of it," said Mayor Fields.

"This about the character of our city," he added.

"Regardless of what it is, I'm looking forward to a dialogue," said Chief Womack. "I think it's going to be a very good thing for us as an organization."

People who live and work in Lakeland had mixed feelings about it.

Some think the department can police itself, while others welcomed the outside perspective. 

Andrew VanEmde said if it was him at his place of work, he'd have been fired a long time ago.

"It needs to be handled by somebody impartial," he said.

"I kinda believe the police department should be able to handle its own," said Tonya Tucker.

But Lakeland resident Kathy Ramlogan thinks it's an opportunity for the chief to be vindicated.

"Seems like she's trying to clean house but, at the same time, maybe she just needs someone to back her up that's stating what she's doing," said Ramlogan.

The public will have a chance to sound off more during a town hall meeting scheduled for July 22. The crowd is expected to be so large they'll likely move it from City Hall over to the Lakeland Center.

Meanwhile, disciplinary hearings are underway at Lakeland PD for a handful of the officers caught-up in the scandal. Some may resign or face possible termination.


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