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Letter to Editor by Clearwater Chief of Police,
Sid Klein 3-22-01

Copyright Times Publishing Co., March 2001

Keeping the peace in Clearwater

Re: Police work for Scientology, editorial, March 22.

It's not Judge Thomas Penick, as you wrote, "who has the unenviable task of  refereeing sidewalk skirmishes between the Church of Scientology and anti-Scientology protesters" in downtown Clearwater. That responsibility falls to the Clearwater Police Department. It's the police officers who must monitor and mitigate the constant confrontations between two groups -- fueled by hatred and distrust -- that seem incapable of tolerance and civility.

This situation involves both public safety and fiscal responsibility. Without off-duty police officers standing by to act as schoolyard monitors for these two groups, we would have to continually send on-duty police officers to break up confrontations, to interview witnesses, to review videotape from scores of cameras (both visible and hidden), to write reports and to take whatever actions are necessary -- every day -- to quell these venomous, juvenile exchanges.

I don't think the expense of our baby-sitting activities should impact the quality of life or the level of service to which Clearwater's residents are both entitled and accustomed. In this time of municipal fiscal blight, I think it's not only responsible, it's downright wise, to let the recalcitrant combatants themselves pick up the cost of the referees. That's my solution to cutting this Gordian Knot.

Despite your disingenuous suggestion that the Clearwater Police Department "treat Scientology differently" from other churches or synagogues, I will not turn a blind eye to the fact the members of this organization are residents of Clearwater, and are guaranteed -- not just by the law, but by me -- the same treatment and protections afforded every other resident and visitor to this city.

It may be easy to make a call on this issue from afar, whether you're a judge who has actually spoken with most of those involved, or an editorial writer who has yet to gather information firsthand. But for those of us with the responsibility to physically step between these combatants on a daily basis, ours is an exercise based in practice, not theory and high-mindedness.

I appreciate your opinion -- though I don't endorse it -- for I took an oath 38 years ago to uphold your right to express such speculative musings. But you should know that the men and women of one of the finest law enforcement agencies in the world are not likely to have their honor sullied or their professionalism questioned because of a part-time job. To imply as much is pandering and insulting.

While continuing to act as peacemaker -- and enforcing Judge Penick's complex court order -- I will carry on my work with both sides, searching for a viable solution acceptable to all. I fully intend to extricate the Clearwater Police Department from this untenable situation. But absent any Solomonic solution offered by the Times, I will continue to address this convoluted situation in a manner that has proved to be both effective and fiscally responsible.

I'm confident our peacekeeping actions -- as distasteful as they may be to some people -- are clearly in the best interests of the residents of Clearwater. And I'm just as confident that our actions speak louder than your words, which have the hollow, distant ring of an ivory tower bell.

-- Sid Klein, chief of police, Clearwater