Police Foundation bids farewell to Chief Al Schettino

Lance Shearer

There was no doubt which side of the issue this group believed. On Wednesday, the Marco Island Police Foundation held a “Lunch with the Chief” event, which became a valedictory for outgoing Police Chief Al Schettino.

With the chief retiring in June, not by his choice, the affair became emotional, with the crowd of about 144 giving a standing ovation to Schettino as he completed his remarks.

“This will be my last Lunch with the Chief,” he noted, and spent his time at the podium thanking those who had assisted him during his tenure, with a special shout-out to his wife, along with the officers of the department, the Police Foundation, the corresponding Fire Foundation, and the community.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve this community. This is my home,” he said. Unlike most Police Foundation functions, the luncheon took place at the Island Country Club rather than the Hideaway Beach Club.

“For the past four and a half years as a team we have worked together to overcome the challenges we were facing. With a great administrative team,” said Schettino. “We accomplished most of our goals, like bringing back manpower stability to the department, along with providing diversity in our personnel to better serve the community.”

Accomplishments Schettino listed included placing full-time school resource officers in all island schools, changing the department’s focus to community service with proactive community engagement, improving communications with the use of social media including Twitter, YouTube and the city website, and initiating a low-power AM radio station for emergency broadcasts.

Additional enhancements included a rescue swimmer program, decreased response times to the lowest levels, a GPS vehicle tracking system, use of vehicle-mounted automatic license plate readers, transitioning to high-ground-clearance vehicles, pay raises to help with recruitment and retention, and a code magistrate to hear code violation cases.

The result, said Schettino, was that Marco Island has one of the lowest crime rates, if not the lowest, of any city in Florida.

The guest speaker for the lunch also raised the emotional level, choking up as he ended his talk. Marco resident and former longtime Chicago-based NBC reporter Peter Karl told the audience the story behind the story of his just-published book, “On the Night of a Blood Moon,” a fictionalized account of a gruesome 1986 rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student.

“All the characters in the book are real except their names,” said Karl, adding that he had appropriated the names of some of the members of “F Troop,” an informal golf and social society at the Island Country Club. Four suspects in the crime were convicted, served long sentences, then were exonerated, winning large settlements, with two other suspects convicted. Karl aired his belief that the original foursome were not innocent.

He included verbatim the confession of one suspect, marveling at the mindset, “when they talk about murdering a 23-year-old woman who wanted to be a doctor, who had her whole life in front of her, like putting out a cigarette … ”

Representatives of F Troop took to the podium before the talk to make Chief Schettino an honorary member, complete with his own personalized golf shirt.

Foundation members expressed strong support for Schettino, who interim city manager David Harden decided to replace in the wake of issues with the department including police officers having sex on duty and cases including an armed standoff having to be thrown out due to having an officer on patrol who had been barred from giving testimony in criminal cases.

“I think the city made probably the biggest mistake in its life letting go of such a fine police chief,” said former councilor Bob Brown.

“This was clearly a vendetta,” said Police Foundation treasurer Joe Granda.

 “We’re losing a man of good character, and a fine community leader,” said Barbara Murphy, wife of Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy.