Strong Arm of the Law

Hollywood's Police Officer of the Year has been accused of sexual battery, manslaughter, and brutality

All but one of the complaints were dismissed by IA. The other traced to an incident in March 2003 in which Salvo violated internal rules when he distributed a flier inside police headquarters that criticized a supervisor. For that, he received a written reprimand.

"This guy sounds like a freight train ready to derail," says Diop Kamau, president of the Police Complaint Center, a nonprofit organization based in Tallahassee that provides assistance to victims of law enforcement abuse. "The officers who are the most lauded and supported by their peers are those who often have had the most complaints about their behavior. Thirty years ago, the guy who broke heads, the knuckle breaker, was considered the hero of the department. Some still have that attitude."

Hollywood, a predominantly white city of 139,357 people nestled along the Atlantic Ocean between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, is one of the area's most troubled cities, Kamau contends. Salvo is only a small part of the problem. Since 1996, the city has been threatened with 21 lawsuits for excessive use of force, injury, or battery on a citizen. One of those cases resulted in a $750,000 jury verdict. And unlike Fort Lauderdale and Miami, there's no official citizen oversight of police in Hollywood.

Vincent Del’Ostia died after an altercation with Hollywood police.
Vincent Del’Ostia died after an altercation with Hollywood police.
In 1993, Salvo killed Larry Dean Smith at this traffic stop.
In 1993, Salvo killed Larry Dean Smith at this traffic stop.

"Hollywood is at the top of my list," Kamau alleges. "They have the most complaints within a 50-mile radius. I've gotten four calls about excessive use of force in the last year. There are departments much larger than Hollywood that don't have any complaints."

Not much information is available on Pete Salvo. There's no record that he owns property, has a business license, or even applied for a marriage license in Broward County. He declined to comment for this article, and few officers or city officials offer any more than predictable phrases or collegial support.

His personnel record indicates that he's a model police officer. Accolades and letters about Salvo describe a hard-working, attentive, personable lawman. He started with the department in November 1984 at age 23, earning $17,802 per year as a road-patrol officer, and has since spent time in bicycle and K-9 units. Salvo in 1987 helped infiltrate an outlaw biker gang as part of a multi-agency organized crime investigation. Divorced in 1988, he remarried a few years ago.

His most stunning year with the force came in 1997, when he led the department in arrests with 82 captures for felony, 115 for misdemeanor, and 213 for municipal ordinance violations. He received an Officer of the Month nod that year for developing street intelligence that led to discovery of the first methamphetamine lab in Broward County.

The next year, after the Greater Hollywood Chamber of Commerce named him Beach Officer of the Year, then-Police Chief Rick Stone nominated Salvo for the Ron Cochran Community Policing Officer of the Year Award.

"Officer Salvo lives and works in the city of Hollywood," Stone wrote in the nominating letter. "He exhibits a genuine commitment to the community and work ethic for others to emulate. Even during off-duty hours, in his travels throughout the city, Officer Salvo has made arrests and community contacts without submitting for overtime...

"Officer Salvo is an informal leader in the department," Stone continued. "His commitment to the community policing philosophy has set an example for others to follow and made them less resistant to change. He is a valuable asset not only to the department but the entire community." Salvo did not receive the award.

In evaluation after evaluation, Salvo has received commendable marks. In 2001, while working as a K-9 officer, Salvo confiscated more than 26 pounds of marijuana, nearly 11 pounds of cocaine, three pounds of crack cocaine, and 449 tablets of ecstasy. The U.S. Navy has even recognized Salvo for assisting during Fleet Week year after year.

Salvo has volunteered his time to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. He has also represented the Police Department as a guest speaker in local classrooms.

Among those who have written the chief about Salvo's performance is former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh. The director commended Salvo for coming to the aid of 14-year-old Jasmine Rice, the daughter of an FBI employee, during a waterskiing accident. Others credit Salvo for helping to clean up crime in the recently revitalized downtown. Linda Strutz, director of the Arts Academy of Hollywood, said Salvo responded quickly to concerns about homeless people loitering in the alley behind her establishment. "It is very comforting for me to know he is in the area when I close the school every evening," Strutz wrote in a letter to the Police Department. Now a narcotics detective earning about $66,000 per year, Salvo has become a star veteran in the Hollywood Police Department. But there are blemishes on his career that the department seems to tacitly condone.

As a patrol officer just shy of four years on the job, Salvo faced an IA investigation and a state grand jury inquiry into an allegation that could have ruined his career. Joni Marie Schapler, an attractive, 36-year-old brunet from Fort Lauderdale, told authorities that Salvo and Officer Greg Saladino sexually assaulted her during a traffic stop near the Chili's restaurant on Sheridan Street.

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