Best known by locals for writing speeding tickets, Windermere, Fl., police seldom drew notice beyond town borders. That is, until Tiger Woods crashed his SUV in a nearby gated community where members of the department worked as bodyguards for the golfer’s family. The glare of the ensuing international media attention exposed Woods’ secret life – and shined unprecedented attention on a tiny agency that patrols the richest town in Central Florida. Orlando Sentinel research shows the 24-member department has little expertise investigating serious crimes. Nearly half the officers, including Chief Daniel Saylor, took jobs in Windermere after resigning from other agencies while under investigation.
Several current and former officers have a history of legal troubles: drug abuse, domestic violence, lying and assault, according to court and police records reviewed by the Sentinel in six counties. Two of those officers are bodyguards whom Woods trusted with the safety of his wife, Elin Nordegren, and their two children. One responded to Woods’ one-car accident Nov. 27. Early that morning, two Windermere officers left their own beat to reach the crash scene first. Tthe department later broke protocol by revealing details of what happened. International attention followed, plus the ire of law-enforcement officials for undermining the crash investigation. Hiring cops who resign under investigation is an unwise risk, according to a nationally recognized expert on police liability. “Some could be a good officer, but you’re playing a long shot,” said Geoffrey Alpert, chairman of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of South Carolina. “A short-sighted chief might do it to save money on training … but a long-sighted chief would say, 'I wouldn’t touch this guy with a 10-foot pole.’ ”