WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – Police Chief Paul Goward was tired of looking around his department and seeing blubber hanging over the belts of some of his officers. So he sent out a memo exhorting the "jelly bellies" to shape up.
In the end, the department lost 190 pounds — all of them belonging to Goward. He was forced out as chief because some of his officers took offense at the memo.
The Oct. 11 memo bruised feelings on the 80-member force, drew at least one anonymous letter of complaint from officers about the chief's management style and made his department the butt of jokes about fat cops and doughnuts.
"If they got their feelings hurt to the extent of 'Do something about it,' then I did what I was intending to do," said an unapologetic Goward, a trim 6-footer who was forced to resign his $92,000-a-year post last week.
Some of the chief's defenders said his ouster was a big overreaction.
"He offered tremendously good advice, yet he was sacked," wrote Thomas Roe Oldt, a columnist for The Ledger of Lakeland.
In his memo, titled "Are You a Jelly Belly," the chief never singled anyone out, and apart from the title, didn't call anyone names.
Instead, he provided a list of 10 reasons police officers should be in shape. He said overweight police poorly represent the profession, poop out when chasing suspects and might have to resort to "a higher level of force" if a criminal got the upper hand in a fight. He said out-of-shape cops are a liability to the city and their families.
"Take a good look at yourself," he wrote. "If you are unfit, do yourself and everyone else a favor. See a professional about a proper diet and a fitness training program, quit smoking, limit alcohol intake and start thinking self-pride, confidence and respectability. And stop making excuses for delaying what you know you should have been doing years ago. We didn't hire you unfit and we don't want you working unfit. Don't mean to offend, this is just straight talk. I owe it to you."
Winter Haven cops must pass physical examinations to be hired but are not regularly tested for fitness thereafter.
Goward, 60, said he is not a fitness freak, was not "asking for a department full of Arnold Schwarzeneggers here" and did not order his officers to stay away from fast-food restaurants or doughnut shops. In fact, the 36-year police veteran, who has also worked in Kansas and South Carolina, said Winter Haven's force is no less fit than the others he has served on.
David Greene, manager of the central Florida city of 30,000, said through a spokeswoman that he was too busy for an interview, but told the local newspapers the anonymous complaint letters made it clear the police department had a morale problem because of Goward's abrasive management style during his 2 1/2 years there.
"Emotions within the police department and the relationship with the police chief became raw," he told The Ledger.
Winter Haven officers contacted by The Associated Press said they were told not to talk to reporters about Goward's departure.
One of the anonymous complaint letters described the force as "upset to say the least" about the chief and called the "Jelly Belly" memo "the icing on the cake."
"This letter shows the type of harassment and hostile work environment we have. The chief of police is constantly 'bad talking' us in every way possible and we have had enough of his arrogance," the letter read.
Mandy Rohrbaugh, a 40-year-old nursing student and Winter Haven resident, said Goward had the right message, but perhaps could have delivered it differently.
"I think honestly our police force needs a lot of shaping up, and I think they should be fit not just when they're hired but through their time," she said.