Police force in Trayvon Martin case eyes Nassau brass

Kevin Canavan, who remains a deputy chief on

Kevin Canavan, who remains a deputy chief on the 2,243-officer Nassau police force, is one of five people vying to lead the 121-officer police department in Sanford, Fla., where the former chief was fired amid the scandal. (Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile, 2006)

A high-ranking Nassau County police official is a finalist to lead the scandal-scarred Florida police force that sparked nationwide protests last year by freeing the killer of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin.

Kevin Canavan, who remains a deputy chief of the 2,243-officer Nassau County Police Department, is one of five finalists vying to lead the 121-officer police department in the Central Florida city of Sanford, where the former chief was fired amid the scandal.

"Trust is earned, and you have to work hard to earn that trust," Canavan said Tuesday at a candidates forum in Sanford, according to the Orlando Sentinel. "Because once you lose it, it takes so much time and hard work to earn it back."

The forum allowed local government leaders and members of the public to grill Canavan and the other four candidates.

Canavan, 53, has been a Nassau police officer since May 1985. He is a former precinct commander and now works in the chief of patrol's office, overseeing units such as Highway Patrol, Marine/Aviation and the elite Bureau of Special Operations. He earned a total of $185,362 in 2011, the most recent available figures.

Through Nassau police spokesman Insp. Kenneth Lack, Canavan declined to comment.

If hired for the Sanford job -- which according to a city spokeswoman pays between $73,509.86 and $117,615.79, in a place with no state income tax -- Canavan would be able to collect his full New York State pension.

The Sanford police force has long been dogged by scandals and public mistrust -- which hit a nadir in February 2012 when Martin was slain in a confrontation with George Zimmerman, a neighborhood-watch member who thought Martin looked suspicious. The department initially failed to arrest Zimmerman, but a state prosecutor later charged him with murder. The case is pending.

In June, Sanford's chief, Bill R. Lee Jr., was fired by the city manager, who said: "We need to move forward with a police chief that all the citizens of Sanford can support."

At the Nassau police department, which has weathered its own avalanche of recent scandals, Canavan was one of the high-ranking chiefs credited last summer with uncovering crime-statistics fudging by a now-demoted precinct commander.

At Tuesday's forum, Canavan touted the Nassau department's pro-diversity stance, according to the Sentinel: He mentioned how Nassau -- a county with a large Sikh population -- recently began letting its Sikh officers wear turbans.

His competition includes a Florida state attorney's investigator; a public integrity director for the Rochester, N.Y., police; a deputy chief for the Elgin, Ill., police; and a deputy chief of Clearwater, Fla., police. The five were picked from a pool of 76 applicants.

The Sanford city manager is expected to make a hire by early February, and the choice would start in early March, according to spokeswoman Lisa Mosca.

With Robert Brodsky

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