Interim Police Chief Donna Lavallee: NSB cop shop earns accreditation for first time in its history

Show Me the Money: New Smyrna Beach PD: From evidence room scandal to accreditation / Headline Surfer®

Evidence room scandal leads to revolving door of top brass before positive changes take hold in municipal force

New Smyrna Beach Interim Police Chief Donna Lavallee please her agency is accredited / Headline Surfer®• First in a series of investigative reports on NSBPD leadership changes. 
 
Display photo for Headline Surfer® provided courtesy of Holly Smith, city of NSB. /
Donna Lavallee, New Smyrna Beach PD interim police chief, places her agency's official patch on a Florida accreditation board in a recent ceremony in Daytona Beach, Florida. 
Lavallee, a 32-year NSPD cop, has been the interim chief since October. She goes back to her lieutenant's position Tuesday as the No. ranked administrator with former Volusia County Chief Deputy Mike Coffin taking over as police chief at a ceremony Tuesday at the start of the New Smyrna Beach City Commission meeting. He was hired last month by City Manager Pam Brangaccio.
 

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. -- After a tough five months in leading the New Smyrna Beach police force as interim police chief, Donna Lavallee has reason to smile with pride and a sense of real achievement as she gives way to new top cop Mike Coffin on Tuesday.

That's because for the first time in its history, the New Smyrna Beach Police Department has earned accreditation from the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation.

And after a major scandal, no less, brought to light nearly three years ago by Headline Surfer® nearly three that saw two prior bosses leave amid questions of leadership and trust in connection with the thefts and a third top cop who abruptly quit back in October. who felt backlash in trying to do things his way.

But none of that had anything to do with Lavallee, a longtime No. 2 in the department suddenly given the reins -- after three successive chiefs bailed voluntarily or whose hands were forced -- until a permanent successor could be found, which turned out to be Coffin, the former chief deputy under Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson.

“As a department, we’ve been working diligently to demonstrate an increased level of professionalism and to have our efforts recognized by the group that sets the standards for our profession,” Lavallee told Headline Surfer® of the accreditation standard now met. “But it’s not solely about earning the recognition. This process helps us to continue to improve ourselves by identifying what we’re doing well and pointing out areas for improvement.”

“As a department, we’ve been working diligently to demonstrate an increased level of professionalism and to have our efforts recognized by the group that sets the standards for our profession,” Lavallee told Headline Surfer® of the accreditation standard now met. “But it’s not solely about earning the recognition. This process helps us to continue to improve ourselves by identifying what we’re doing well and pointing out areas for improvement.”

The accredited status is for three years, added Lavallee, who has been interim police chief since October when then-Police Chief George Markert abruptly quit to "pursue other opportunities" after a little more 16 months on the job as the permanent successor to Police Chief Ronald Pagano, who was given an extra six months salary as an inducement to retire at the tail end of 2012.

In between Pagano and Markert, City Manager Pam Brangaccio turned to then-Lt. Michael Brouillette, a finalist for the chief's job that went to Markert, who abruptly quit just months after Markert was hired under circumstances that remain unexplained to this day after signing a document that prevents both sides from badmouthing each other.

The agency already has begun working on the next compliance cycle to retain the accreditation. New Smyrna Beach was recognized for its accreditation status at a Feb. 25 function in Daytona Beach. 

In December, CFA representatives spent three days thoroughly vetting all aspects of the New Smyrna Beach Police Department. Comprised of law enforcement practitioners from similar agencies, the assessment team reviewed written materials, interviewed individuals and visited offices and other locations where compliance can be witnessed.

The agency’s property room was an area of particular interest to the team, in the wake of 940 items reported as missing or stolen from the evidence area, that led to an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

This ultimately led to Pagano's hastened departure, though it wouldn't become public for another five months when Headline Surfer broke the story on the scandal.

In all 940 items were unaccounted for, either as missing or stolen, including but not limited to several thousand in cash, handguns, ammunition, jewelry, seized narcotics, electronics, several motor vehicles and a bunch of extraneous stuff.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the situation in early 2013, determining that some things of value such as hard currency, had been stolen from within, but had no clear0-cut suspects.

But all of that has apparently changed for the better since.

“The security and organization of the property room was very evident,” said Tammy Farnham, head of the state accreditation services. “It’s easier to get into the White House than to the secure areas of the evidence room.”

Attaining accredited status through CFA is a highly prized recognition that attests to an agency’s professional excellence, Lavallee added.

NSB receives recognition for police accreditation / Hwadline Surfer®Photo for Headline Surfer® /
New Smyrna Beach Interim Police Chief Donna Lavallee accepts a framed accreditation certification from Oviedo Police Chief Jeffrey Chudnow, Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation chair. New Smyrna Beach Mayor Jim Hathaway, City Commissioners Kirk Jones, Jason McGuirk and Jake Sachs , senior City staff such as Assistant City Manager Khalid Resheidat and police officers also were present to receive the recognition at the Feb. 25 meeting of the Commission for Law Enforcement Accreditation in Daytona Beach.
 

Before an agency is considered for accreditation, it first must pass the rigorous on-site review process including compliance with 260 standards – many of which are critical to life, health and safety of the employees and the citizens they serve.

Only then may the agency be recommended for CFA accreditation, according to the agency’s website, www.flaccreditation.org.

Only five minor areas of concern were identified during the process, according to Assessor Samantha Jones. Three of those were minor policy changes that already have been changed and approved, Jones added. Two others are minor corrective actions involving two fund audits not included in a quarterly report. No funds were identified as missing.

“This has been the best and easiest agency review that I’ve been involved with this year,” Jones said following the on-site assessment.

Farnham echoed the point, adding, “You cannot put the attitude of the employees on paper or in a file. Everyone our team dealt with was very helpful. Everyone has done a great job. It reflects overall on the agency.”

In an effort to ensure the professional delivery of public safety services, the CFA establishes standards, oversees an accreditation program, and awards accreditation to compliant Florida law enforcement agencies, according to the agency’s website.

The CFA Assessment team included Farnham of the Stuart Florida Police Department, Jones, of the Neptune Beach Police Department and Assistant Chief Derrick Lewis of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department.

All of that has brought a sense of relief and achievement for Lavallee, a 32-year employee, who told Headline Surfer®: "I always try to do my best."

Coming Up:

• Chaos of revolving door of top cops over last three years;
• Meet Mike Coffin, NSBPD's new no non-sense police chief;
• Essay on policing from retired law enforcer who lives in NSB.

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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com since 2008. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed close to a hundred award-winning byline stories nearly evenly split in print and digital platforms. Frederick earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in Winter Park in February 2019. He was a metro reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal for nearly a decade and then served as a city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass, while maintaining a residence in Central Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Frederick was a metro reporter for the Rockland Journal-News in West Nyack, NY, for seven years. Headline Surfer was named the Sunshine State's top internet news site by the Florida Press Club in 2018.