BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) — After a few months of travel and working part-time at the state’s attorney’s office, Andy Ray is back at the helm of a police department.
“This work is super important to me. It always has been. If I can make a difference in Bartow, if I can make a difference in this department, then I’m all in,” said Chief Andy Ray, who was sworn in as Bartow’s new police chief Monday.
This transition came about after the department was found to be in turmoil and experiencing a crisis in leadership.
At the beginning of the year, Bartow city manager Mike Herr met with staff from city departments, including the police department.
“I thought the most concerning was the lack of trust and respect that the members of the police department had for their leadership team,” said Herr.
From there, Herr hired outside consultants to do a full review, which found issues involving discord among leadership, lack of respect for police chief, poor communication, lack of trust, declining morale and lack of effective visioning, among other problems.
Consultants also interviewed state’s attorney Brian Haas, who said he did not trust major crimes investigations conducted by the Bartow Police Department.
“We’ve had a couple years now where that’s been a known issue and we didn’t make any progress. I met with the state’s attorney and we have not made substantial improvement. So, that just can’t stay,” said Herr.
Then-Chief Bryan Dorman announced his retirement, effective Sept. 1.
“I am incredibly proud of my 25 years of service to the city of Bartow Police Department. When I began my career here in 1998, it was my goal to one day become the Chief. Having realized that goal and leading the department over the past 3+ years, it is time for a new goal and some new challenges,” he wrote to News Channel 8 in a statement.
Deputy Chief Lauro Diaz resigned to run for sheriff in Palm Beach County.
Meanwhile, Chief Ray had retired as Auburndale’s police chief in October 2022 and was working part-time at the state’s attorney’s office, drafting body-worn camera policies.
Then he got a call from Herr.
“He just asked me if I would consider stepping into the role of the police chief here in Bartow with an effort to just try to stabilize and move ahead the department,” said Chief Ray.
Herr said he took into account Chief Ray’s experience climbing the ranks at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Auburndale Police when offering him the job.
“I just thought that that career track is exactly what we needed in Bartow. We need a strong mentor. We need a person in leadership that has integrity, that the men and women in the Bartow Police Department will respect,” said Herr.
Chief Ray said he will work to give detectives experience working major crimes in the field, alongside the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, and improve relations with the state’s attorney’s office, his former employer.
“While they don’t have that confidence right now in the Bartow Police Department, I’m confident they will,” said Chief Ray.
Both Herr and Chief Ray said they will look into possible alternatives for the communications center, which dispatches for police, fire and utilities in the city.
The consultants found the center was understaffed and employees were overworked.
Bryan Dorman, the previous chief, is still working at the department, assisting with the transition before his retirement goes into effect Sept. 1.
The deputy chief position remains vacant following Diaz’s resignation.