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The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has been asked to reopen an investigation into a police officer who was paid to monitor manatee zones.
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WPTV uncovered questions about warnings Lt. Gregory Babcock issued to boaters, and those questions are sparking new interest in the case.
The new mayor of West Palm Beach, Keith James, who was just sworn in last month, called what WPTV uncovered in an investigation into Lt. Babcock "troubling."
"The allegations concern me," said Mayor James. "I don’t want to give the impression that I’m ignoring this, but I have to let the process play out."
In 2017, FDLE determined Lt. Babcock was paid more than $2,500 dollars for overtime hours for manatee zone enforcement he did not work. Despite the findings, the State Attorney’s Office said the evidence did not meet the requirements for prosecution.
That evidence included boating warnings submitted by Lt. Babcock during the 2016-2017 manatee season. WPTV tracked down the boaters who said they were never issued warnings, and they weren’t even on the water.
West Palm Beach police released a statement Tuesday saying the information obtained by WPTV was not known during the original investigation. They have now called FDLE to investigate.
The statement reads:
"In light of the new information obtained by WPTV, which was not known during the original investigation, the West Palm Beach Police Department will contact the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office Public Corruption Unit, and request it conduct an independent investigation of the new allegation."
But the boating warnings were included in the original investigation by FDLE, then reviewed by the State Attorney’s Office, and ultimately reviewed by the police department when it opened its own internal affairs investigation.
None of the findings from the agencies involved mention if anyone looked into those warnings.
In his internal affairs interview, the whistleblower who initially brought forward the allegations about Lt. Babcock to FDLE told an internal affairs investigator that his suspicions about Lt. Babcock not working hours he signed up for in the manatee enforcement program began in November of 2016.
The only weekend Lt. Babcock submitted boating warnings, the whistleblower said he drove by the city facility complex and noticed something suspicious.
"The (police) boat was there the whole weekend. It never moved," said the whistleblower.
"If we find that there have been some breaches of public trust, we will act accordingly," said Mayor James.
Lt. Babcock is still on duty, according to the public information officer of the West Palm Beach Police Department.
WPTV asked Mayor James if he thought the officer should be placed on leave pending the outcome of the investigation, but he said because there is an impending investigation he could not give his opinion.
The Palm Beach County Inspector General said his office will perform an audit of the county manatee enforcement program this summer that will go back several years, and will include looking at red flags in boating warnings.