Lakeland K9 unit members disciplined for speeding

- All nine members of the Lakeland Police Department's Canine Unit, including their sergeant, have been suspended after being caught speeding through north Florida at speeds over 100 mph, the department announced Tuesday.

According to an internal affairs investigation, members of the unit were spotted in marked vehicles speeding to and from the United States Police Canine Association Regional Field Trials in the Florida Panhandle back in March.

"Although each officer involved has taken full responsibility for their actions, they cannot take back the embarrassment placed on this agency and their fellow colleagues," Chief Larry Giddens said in a prepared video news release.

A former law enforcement officer who now works for the Florida Attorney General's Office saw the LPD vehicles speeding through Santa Rosa County on March 3. The employee called LPD chief Larry Giddens.

Chief Giddens called K9 unit supervisor Sgt. Aaron Peterman, who was traveling with the unit, to tell him to “slow down,” according to the investigation summary. He then called for an Internal Affairs investigation, which recently closed.

The investigation reveals that the men, most of whom were traveling in their cruisers in a convoy, were hitting speeds of more than 100 mph on the interstate and almost 85 mph on side roads.

The marked police cars were equipped with in-car camera systems, which revealed one of the vehicles was traveling 84 mph in the city of Gulf Breeze where there was a posted speed of 45 mph.

The system begins recording automatically when the vehicle reaches 75 mph. Several members also sped as fast as 101 mph in zones where the speed limit was 70, the report states.

The video was released and depicts the officer vehicles driving past other drivers while in the fast lane.

When questioned, according to the report, five of the officers admitted to filling up the system’s memory cards to prevent recording of any personal conversations between each other. The five officers who filled up the memory cards were found in violation of the code of conduct.

Based on the camera data that did record and the officers’ “truthful admissions,” it was determined that all nine members did speed at some point and violated policy, according to the findings.

They also complained that the constant beeping and flashing lights of the recording system was distracting.

“During their pre-disciplinary hearings, each officer was remorseful,” the report said, “and acknowledged that their individual actions reflected unfavorably upon the department and cast the agency in a negative light.”

The men, including their sergeant, Aaron Peterman, will not be eligible for a merit raise this year. All of the men will get a one-day suspension without pay.

Five of them whose dash cams were not recording will be suspended for a second day.

The following unit members faced disciplinary action: Officers Ryan Back, Jeff Barrett, Cory Bowling, Virgil Cardin, John McLaughlin, Travis Miller, Chad Whitaker, Jeremy Williams, and Sgt. Peterman.

No tickets were issued, but each member faced at least an 8.4-hour to 16.8-hour suspension. They will also receive training on the in-car camera system along with training on the dangers of speeding. Those who were eligible to receive annual merit increases will be denied for one year, and none will be considered for a promotion for one year.

"I am embarrassed and very disappointed by the actions of these officers,” Chief Giddens said in the report. “As law enforcement officers we must always respect the enormous amount of trust the public has placed in us and we must lead by example. In this specific incident, these officers have failed and they will be held accountable through the use of our disciplinary policies.”

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