LMT IN THE NEWS:
POLICE WORK FOR SCIENTOLOGY
Copyright Times Publishing Co. Mar 22,
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Thomas Penick, who
has the unenviable task of refereeing sidewalk skirmishes between
the Church of Scientology and anti-Scientology protesters in
Clearwater, recently pointed to an arrangement that allows off-duty
Clearwater cops to work for Scientology and noted, "They are coming
very dangerously close to becoming a private security force for the Church of Scientology."
Penick was right to call attention to the
uncomfortably cozy relationship developing between city police and
the church, which has its spiritual headquarters in downtown Clearwater.
arrangement, sanctioned by Clearwater Police Chief Sid Klein, the
church pays $25 an hour for two uniformed police officers to work
eight half-hour shifts 365 days a year. Officers sign up for the
extra work if they want it and are assigned on a rotating basis. As
reported Sunday by staff writer Deborah O'Neil, the Church of
Scientology has paid nearly $150,000 to 110 officers since January
2000. The Police Department gets $2.50 an hour from the church to cover fees and workers' compensation.
The situation seems bizarre to observers who
know that since the church moved into Clearwater under a false
identity in the 1970s, the relationship between Scientology and the
Clearwater Police Department has been cool at best, outwardly
hostile at worst. The police gathered intelligence on Scientology
for years, amassing an enormous investigative file. The church
struck back by writing attack pieces about the police, printing them
in Scientology publications and throwing them on residents' lawns.
The relationship worsened after the suspicious death of church
member Lisa McPherson in a Scientology hotel and the arrival of the
Lisa McPherson Trust, which is organized and operated out of
downtown offices by Scientology critics.
The off-duty officers are hired by the church to
make sure that no one - particularly staff of the Lisa McPherson
Trust - messes with Scientologists coming and going from church
facilities on Watterson Avenue, a downtown side street where many
clashes between the two sides have occurred. On-duty cops often were
summoned to Watterson Avenue to mediate until Klein granted the
church's request for off- duty officers.
Klein felt that police were needed on Watterson
and that putting off-duty officers there would free on-duty officers
for other tasks. There was also a matter of fairness to consider.
The Clearwater Police Department provides off-duty officers to more
than 50 organizations, many of them churches. How could it say yes
to a Catholic or Presbyterian church, but treat Scientology
how: Though Scientology has worked to improve its image and
relationship with the city in recent years, the fact is that the
church, by virtue of its controversial history in Clearwater and its
altercations with the Lisa McPherson Trust, is not like most other
Clearwater churches. Also, there is a big difference between
providing an off-duty officer to a church to direct traffic after
Sunday services and supplying off-duty officers to protect Scientology from its critics every day of the year.
Klein orders officers
who work off-duty for Scientology not to take sides. It is naive for
him to expect that every officer earning income from Scientology and
interacting regularly with its members will always be capable of
objectivity. And it is unwise to place officers employed by the
church in a position to be first- responders, report-writers and
official witnesses when incidents occur between the church and protesters.
sees a need for a law enforcement presence on Watterson Avenue, he
should assign on-duty officers to work there, whether or not
off-duty officers continue to be employed by the church.