Scientology's Publication Is Critical Of Police

Source: St. Petersburg Times
Date: April 15, 1997

by Thomas C. Tobin

The Church of Scientology has criticized the Clearwater Police Department in a blistering series of articles published this week.

Citing "an informed source" who is not named, the latest edition of the Scientology publication Freedom states that Clearwater police:

Discriminate against black people and other minorities by targeting them for arrest and not hiring them in great enough numbers.

Have a poor record of drug enforcement, which, it was suggested, may be the result of illegal steroid use by officers, or officers being "on the take."

Pad their law enforcement statistics in order to inflate their budgets, and reap promotions and benefits for top officers. An article headlined Clearwater PD: Making the City Unsafe alleges that officers are encouraged to make "easy" arrests for petty offenses, while more serious offenses go undetected.

Police Chief Sid Klein responded Monday, saying: "Freedom is at best journalistically bankrupt. I see no factual information in that publication that impugns the reputation, integrity or honesty of the Clearwater Police Department. So I really have no response to the articles."

Klein added, however, that he is concerned about the effect of the publication on tourism. "Visitors unfamiliar with Freedom will develop an inaccurate and unsettling opinion of our city when they read it, and that could have an unsavory impact on our economy," Klein said.

About 100,000 copies of Freedom are distributed throughout the Tampa Bay area, said Tom Whittle, a Freedom editor based at Scientology's Los Angeles headquarters.

The articles marked another episode in the strained co-existence between Clearwater and Scientology that began when the church came to the city in 1975. The church, which critics say is a moneymaking cult, arrived with a plan to dominate Clearwater and infiltrate its key institutions.

Scientology says it is a bona fide religion that helps people, and that 6,000 Scientologists live in Clearwater and receive training and church services in the city.

Since the 1970s, the church has attempted to repair its image in the community, but that effort has not been without frequent flare-ups with city officials and police.

The latest controversy has centered on the case of Lisa McPherson, who died in 1995 while in the care of fellow Scientologists after a 17-day stay at the Fort Harrison Hotel, a Scientology retreat in downtown Clearwater.

Her death at 36 remains unexplained, and police still are investigating. Scientologists insist nothing suspicious occurred and have criticized police for looking into it.

In its article alleging a weak drug enforcement effort by Clearwater police, Freedom accused the department of "not being an effective part of the solution." It points to one fact that it says has "raised questions of whether it is being part of the problem."

The fact: A figure from a state crime report that, according to Freedom, shows that Clearwater police seized just $605 in illegal drugs in 1995.

Police spokesman Wayne Shelor said the figure is wrong. He said the department seized drugs valued at $378,134 in 1995 and $518,917 in 1996.

"We stand behind our story," said Whittle, the Freedom editor. He said he didn't believe Shelor's figures and challenged him to explain the discrepancy.