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Vero police chief seen fighting ouster

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER, (Week of November 3, 2011)
Photo of Police Chief Don Dappen.

Two weeks after Vero Beach City Manager Jim O'Connor suggested that Police Chief Don Dappen retire by December 1, local law enforcement and government sources say the 35-year-veteran of the force has told them he is not going anywhere and intends to stand his ground.

Dappen has not responded to questions or requests for a statement, and O’Connor – who cited a “difference in management styles” with the chief – said Monday he didn’t see any major development occurring this week.  "This is one of those personnel matters that I have to work through," he said.

Councilman Brian Heady said he didn’t think O'Connor will press hard on the issue until the Dec. 1 milestone approaches. Heady said that at that point, he fully expects an ultimatum to be put to Dappen to retire or be fired.

"I'm sure we'll have a meeting," O’Connor said.

Dappen has been on the Vero force for nearly 35 years and has had a few rocky incidents with recent City Councils. He's lost some major battles, including his push to install red light cameras in the city and an attempt – subsequently overruled by a court – to forcibly draw blood from DUI suspects who refuse to take breathalyzer tests.

In addition, Dappen reportedly physically intimidated Councilwoman Tracy Carroll in July, subjecting her to harsh language as revealed at a Republican Women Aware group candidate's forum. 

That incident happened after Carroll publicly took Dappen to task about his department budget. One of Dappen's officers sent an e-mail to members of the public asking them to protest budget cuts and a standoff ensued between city management, the council and Dappen.

Carroll, who has described the incident to close friends and to several people close to city government, said she was called into a meeting with then-Interim City Manager Monte Falls and Dappen to discuss the police budget.

"After that meeting with Monte, which was in the city manager's office, Chief Dappen told me that he wanted to speak with me. I questioned him, saying that we'd just had a meeting," Carroll said. "He said he wanted to speak with me one on one and we went into the city manager's conference room. He closed the door."

Carroll said Dappen tried to physically intimidate her,  talking in a loud voice and using crude language to ask her "what her expletive problem was with him."

O'Connor said the confrontation with Carroll was not a factor in his decision because he had not been aware of it.

Carroll said she thought she told O'Connor about the incident during his first days on the job, but she said she would make a point of discussing Dappen's behavior with him soon.

O'Connor returned Monday from a week off during which he closed on his home in Winchester, Va., and moved his belongings to Florida.

Though his personnel file in general shows not much out of the ordinary, Dappen was reprimanded in 1999 by then-Chief Jim Gabbard. The disciplinary action was the result of findings of an Internal Affairs investigation probing into 1994 events.

Dappen admitted to getting intoxicated with subordinate officers on a trip to Orlando and being unable to attend a city-funded training session the next morning. The seminar topic, ironically, was the police department's participation in the DARE program, an effort designed to curb substance abuse among school children.

Public records show Dappen earns $115,518 a year and, as of last spring had nearly 12 weeks of accrued sick time and 59 days of accrued vacation time coming to him.

Upon his retirement, Dappen could receive up to $88,000 in cash payout for his banked sick and vacation time. On top of that, he would benefit from the city's police pension program.

\Public records state that police officers receive "3 percent credit for each service year."  Based upon 35 years of service, Dappen's pension would be as much as his current salary as police chief – an estimated $9,600 per month.

Vero Beach taxpayers also are required to subsidize health insurance benefits for retirees for the rest of their lives.

Deputy Police Chief David Currey would be the next in line for the job of chief should O'Connor decide to promote from within.