9 St. Augustine Beach officers lose use of computers

Officers accused of releasing confidential information

Published On: May 30 2012 03:33:50 PM EDT   Updated On: May 30 2012 11:30:53 PM EDT
St. Augustine Beach police cruiser
ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, Fla. -

The acting police chief in St. Augustine Beach has confirmed nine of the department's 14 officers have lost the use of their computers, which are used to run checks on driver's licenses and license plates.

The officers had their computer privileges taken away after they were accused of releasing confidential information to the public.

These are the same officers who complained Chief Richard Hedges was committing illegal and unethical acts in the department.

The loss of these computers could affect how these officers do their jobs.

When an officer pulls someone over to the side of the road, one of the first things that officer will do is use his or her computer to run the license plate number to see if the car is stolen or maybe the driver of that car is wanted by police. Now most of the officers with the St. Augustine Beach Police Department can no longer do that themselves.

Before he was placed on administrative leave, Hedges and his administration asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to suspend the use of state and national crime computers for nine of his officers, according to the St. Johns County Sheriff Office.

Those same officers submitted a 70-page complaint to the city commission, accusing Hedges of improprieties and illegal conduct. But the officers' report may have included confidential information regarding past investigations that wasn't suppose to be released to the public.

"Because it is under investigation, I can't comment too much on it," Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Chuck Mulligan said.

He said the officers who lost their computers now have to radio in information to the county dispatcher.

"They do not have direct access to our terminals, so that is the big difference, whereas before they certainly had terminals in their cars and in their office," Mulligan said. "That really is the difference at this point."

Interim Police Chief David Messenger said the extra steps do slow the officers down. Messenger declined to talk further about the issue. Likewise, Mayor S. Gary Snodgrass has decided not to speak about the Police Department's struggles until the investigation is complete.

"I'm sure it would be very distressing if you're in a criminal situation and they couldn't get that information as fast as they could if they had their computers," said Bill Squillari, of the Police Department.

"It's difficult to do your job if you don't have your tools," said Deborah Girard, who shops in St. Augustine Beach. "I really think it's hard for them to be effective."

The FDLE continues to look and see if any crimes were committed. Mulligan said there will soon be an internal investigation to see if any policies were violated by the chief or his officers.