By Thomas R. Collins
Ocean Ridge officials breathed a sigh of relief this month when a state board overseeing police officer training let three dozen arrests stand even though the officers who made them hadn’t gotten their firearms recertification from a properly certified instructor.
All of the town’s 21 police officers — 14 regular officers and seven reserve officers — had gotten their firearms certification renewed for the 2006 to 2008 period and the 2008 to 2010 period through an instructor who was certified as a general firearms instructor but was not state-certified.
Ocean Ridge Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi said that shortly after he became chief last year, he was surprised to learn of the glitch. “I asked our firearms instructor, ‘Are you state certified?’ … And the answer that day was, ‘No.’ ”
He said he then called the state, asking, “What do we do now?”
Town officials — along with officials from other towns in the same boat — had to travel to Ocala to appear before the Standards and Training Commission, part of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. That board issued a waiver for the certification, thereby allowing the arrests made by the officers to stand.
Ernie George, chair of the commission and president of the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association, said the instructors involved had gone through most of the training, but hadn’t completed an internship under another state-certified instructor.
“This has happened before where the instructors are totally trained, they have the proper training,” he said. “So we’ve waived it in the past for other counties around the state.”
He said there was never a question about the officers’ proficiency with firearms.
“All the officers qualified on the (gun) range,” he said.
The arrests at risk in Ocean Ridge ranged from burglaries to domestic-violence cases to less serious charges. Arrests in capital cases — including homicides and sexual batteries — are handled by the Sheriff’s Office for the town and therefore were not at risk, Yannuzzi said.
All of the town’s officers were quickly recertified through Boynton Beach, and the town’s firearms instructor has been properly state-certified, he said.
Why hadn’t the problem with the instructor’s certification been discovered earlier? Requirements on certification changed for the 2006 to 2008 period, and Yannuzzi chalked it up to a “misinterpretation of the rules.”