Beach Police Under Fire Again

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Beach police and city officials received two anonymous letters over the last three weeks, filled with allegations of wrongdoing by police officers.

Some of the allegations included beach police officers drinking beer at last year’s Indian Summer Festival and then driving department vehicles.

In his written response to the letters, Beach Police Chief Robert Harding admitted the allegation was true, but that none of the officers were drunk or on duty. They didn't violate of any laws or department policy, so Harding says he won't take any disciplinary action.

"I'm very embarrassed that our chief would tolerate drinking by our officers and driving city vehicle," said Panama City Beach City Councilman Ken Nelson.

City Councilman Ken Nelson, a former cop, says he can't believe it. He's written a letter to city manager Richard Jackson asking him to fire the officers and take action against Chief Harding.

"I believe the officers that were drinking and driving the vehicle need to be dismissed, and I believe serious disciplinary action needs to be taken against Chief Harding," said Nelson.

Nelson's fellow city council members refused to comment on the issue, saying it's not their place.

"The Police Department is part of the civil service system and report directly to the city manager," said Panama City Beach Vice-Mayor Gayle Oberst.

Chief Harding says he's spoken with Jackson about the letter and complaints. Harding says he stands by his decision not to punish the officers.

"No criminal intent there. No criminal laws violated, therefore no FDLE investigation," said Chief Robert Harding. "There was not a section in there that covered alcoholic beverages if you were not operating the vehicle."

But Harding says he has since changed his department policy. City Manager Richard Jackson refused to comment on the issue, saying he's looking into the charges and will prepare a response early next week.