Interim Chief Roche wins plaudits from city commissioners
On April 4, Sarasota City Manager Marlon Brown committed to the city commissioners that he would let them know by the end of this month whether he intends to conduct a national search for a new Sarasota Police Department chief or recruit a candidate from within the force.
Over recent weeks, city businessman Martin Hyde repeatedly has criticized Brown during commission meetings for taking so long to make a decision on the permanent replacement for Chief James Rieser, who resigned in August 2021.
Following the departure of Chief Bernadette DiPino at the end of January 2021, Brown named Rieser her successor.
When Rieser stepped down as of 5 p.m. on Aug. 25, 2021 “[b]ecause of recent unexpected health issues,” Brown appointed then-Deputy Chief Rex Troche to be interim chief. Troche, whom Rieser had named to the No. 2 position on Feb. 16, 2021, was the first Hispanic deputy chief for the department.
During the April 4 City Commission meeting, Brown noted that Troche “has been doing a really great job.”
In the past, Brown continued, city staff had advertised nationally when the city needed a new police chief. The top 10 candidates generally were chosen to interview with a variety of panels, including ones representing city residents and organizations, as well as the members of the City Commission.
This time, he added, “We’ve engaged about 56 different stakeholders’ groups.” They all were asked to provide feedback, by the end of February, regarding the characteristics they found most important in a police chief, Brown added, though the response rate was approximately 20%.
“We also intended to engage the unions, since the majority of the employees that will be reporting to the chief of police are unionized,” Brown said. Therefore, he had met with representatives of the Teamsters and the International Union of Police Associations, to gain their comments, he pointed out. He finally completed that outreach last week, he added.
The city’s Human Resources Department staff has been putting together a profile based on all the comments he has received, Brown told the commissioners.
“My philosophy is always to hire from within,” Brown continued. “I hold that philosophy very dear to my heart. … As we say to [Troche], it’s his [job] to lose, but … we intend to look at that profile.” If he meets the criteria, Brown said, then Troche will be lose the “interim” part of his title.
Both Vice Mayor Kyle Battie and Commissioner Hagen Brody told Troche, who was appearing before the board for a crime statistics discussion, that he is “doing a great job.”
“I keep hearing it out in the community,” Battie said.
Mayor Erik Arroyo added, “I’ve been extremely impressed.” Having been acquainted with three chiefs of the Sarasota Police Department, Arroyo continued, he has been “extremely, extremely impressed” with Troche’s involvement with residents. “You’re out there,” Arroyo added, noting that he had not seen that level of community engagement in some time.
Troche has not just been a presence in areas of high visibility, Arroyo pointed out, but also in those where Troche is most needed.
Further, Arroyo said, “The morale is just, from my personal Gallop Poll, just amazing at [the Police Department].”
Arroyo did note, “Being in an interim position is difficult. … There’s less ownership of it. … You have to be very cautious,” because “bold decisions” could affect future employment.
“I do like promoting from within,” Arroyo continued, “and always have.”
The only public speaker who addressed the board members on the topic late that afternoon was Rich Sheldon. Although he is vice chair of the city’s Police Complaint Committee, he said, he was speaking that day as a private citizen.
Voicing his own support for Troche, Shelton concurred that morale in the Police Department is high. Moreover, he noted, “I’ve not heard any performance complaints.”
“I would just implore you to make [Troche] the permanent police chief … as soon as you can,” Shelton told Brown.
The crime statistics
With five murders having been reported in the city since the end of 2021, Mayor Arroyo had asked for an item to be placed on the commission’s April 4 agenda regarding crime statistics.
Victoria Burton, the Police Department’s crime analyst, joined interim Chief Troche in presenting the data.
The department provided the board members the statistics for crimes involving persons and property in the city limits between Jan. 1 and March 25 2021 and the same period of this year. The numbers were down 5% overall for 2022, Burton noted. However, violent crime dropped 23.5%, compared to the numbers for 2021, she said.
“So we are in good shape,” Arroyo pointed out.
“I hear about the traffic issues, loitering issues and violent crime the most,” Commissioner Brody told Troche. “Traffic enforcement is a big one.”
Brody added that he hopes the commissioners have approved the hiring of enough officers “to slow Sarasota down.”
Further, Brody suggested that patrol officers in neighborhoods interact more with residents, just as the officers who patrol downtown Sarasota engage with business owners. Those assigned to downtown, Brody added, “do a wonderful — just a fantastic job” of building such relationships.
“I’d like to see more of that citywide,” Brody told Troche. Officers should work to introduce themselves to homeowners, Brody said.
“At the end of the day,” Troche replied, “it starts with me at the top.”
Recently, Troche continued, during an operation that the department’s Community Action Team members have been undertaking, officers pulled over a vehicle with four juveniles inside. In the past, he said, “All those kids would have gone to jail.”
In this case, Troche noted, the team members traded telephone numbers with them, in an effort to help them with their homework after school “These are the things that are starting to make a change within the agency,” Troche pointed out. Shortly, he continued, officers would be engaging in an intervention with those teens, “to help them moving forward … We’re really doing a holistic approach. We are arresting the bad guys,” he said, “but we’re also trying to help people.”
The department’s goal, he continued, is to enable people to become productive members of the community, with the ability to pay taxes and buy homes.
Troche then extended his appreciation to all of the women and men of the Sarasota Police Department. He added, “I’m on the shoulders of giants,” as the city manager says. “They make me look great.”
Vice Mayor Battie pointed out that he has attended a number of community meetings with Troche in Newtown, the traditionally African American neighborhood in the city. “[We are] doing everything we can to quell the crime.”
Similar to what Brody had described, Battie said he has seen the enthusiasm of the officers he knows who patrol downtown Sarasota. Further, he noted of those officers, “They’re always respectful,” even with homeless individuals.
“Continue to do the great job that you do,” Battie told Troche.
“From what I’ve seen,” Commissioner Liz Alpert said to Troche, “I think you’ve been doing a phenomenal job with it.”
Nonetheless, she added, “I’m not going to push the city manager.”