Read our exclusive Q&A with Orange County Sheriff candidate Jose 'Joe' Lopez.
City/town: Born in the Bronx; resides in Orlando
Family: Married for 30 years; two children
Education: Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration, Columbia Southern University
Qualifications: Promoted to major in 2013 as the bureau commander of Criminal Investigation and Intelligence with the Florida Highway Patrol; assigned as troop commander in 2015 for Troop K-Turnpike/Orlando; promoted to rank of chief upon retirement. During my career with the FHP, I spent more than three decades in various roles including internal Affairs, the Violent Street Crimes Unit, traffic homicide, training, SWAT, Mobile Field Force, the Bureau of Criminal Investigations and Intelligence, contraband interdiction, K-9, shift commander and district commander for Orlando Troop K-Turnpike. In 2017 I joined the private sector where I currently serve as senior manager of security for Walt Disney World.
Why are you running for county sheriff?
For too long, our communities have been ignored. We need some serious changes. The establishment passed the baton from one insider to another, and our communities deserve better. I will not be the TV sheriff; I will be the people's sheriff. I promise you, no one will work smarter or harder — with more integrity and compassion for the community, while earning your trust — than me. So far in 2020, there have been 51 homicides as compared to 34 homicides for the same time last year. This increase in violent crime is unacceptable, and I have a plan to reduce the homicides in Orange County. Let’s take back our streets and make our community safer. My No. 1 priority is to rebuild the trust with the community. The trust has eroded, so I will bridge that gap between the community and law enforcement.
What qualities and skills would you bring to the position?
What sets me apart? Besides integrity, loyalty and effective leadership, the ability and willingness to work with people who are different from me. I have the courage to say no to the establishment and say yes to the people, yes to the community. I will not mislead the community or media about crime or excessive use of force. I spent a lifetime of service to our community, and I want to continue as your next Orange County sheriff.
Why are you the best candidate?
What defines me is my 32-year career as a state trooper — rising through the ranks to chief upon retirement — with an unquestionable, impeccable record. What defines me is my 4-and-a-half years serving meritoriously in the United States Marines in a prestigious unit, Embassy Duty. What defines me is growing up in the tough streets of the Bronx serving my community as an altar boy, Cub Scout, Boy Scout and a Junior Naval Cadet. So, as you can see, I am not a politician beholden to the establishment. I am a community servant of 45-plus years. Serving my community is a calling for me, a sense of duty. I will not tell you what you want to hear, I will tell you what you need to hear. What makes me different? I have a plan to fight violent crime:
- Increase the direct presence and involvement of deputies within those neighborhoods prone to gun violence
- Implement a crime prevention and intervention program based on technology and analytical tools that assist deputies being at the right place and at the right time to provide immediate intervention before they escalate to a homicide
- Focus deterrence. Identify those repeat career criminals and become hyper vigilant to their criminal activity. These are just few of the many other strategies that I will implement on day one as Sheriff of Orange County.
What are the three biggest needs of the Sheriff’s Office now, and how would you work to fill those needs?
- Diversity. One of the building blocks to building relationships in the community is to have a diverse OCSO. The OCSO must reflect the demographics of the community. The population of Orange County is as follows: 39% white, 32% Hispanic, 19% black. The diversity of the OCSO is as follows: 63% white, 19% Hispanic, 13% black.
- Effective leadership through emotional intelligence to build morale within the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
- Build a stronger partnership and relationship with the community.
How should the Sheriff’s Office change or grow following the nationwide unrest caused by the death of George Floyd?
The tragedy to what occurred to George Floyd should have never occurred. This was a modern-day lynching as the world witnessed a murder on national TV. My message is about integrity and accountability to the community. I will hold the members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office accountable, as I did as a state trooper and as a United States Marine. I will not mislead the community or media, and I will have a zero tolerance of excessive use of force. Any member of OCSO found to have used excessive use of force will terminated. (I will) implement a police officer “early warning,” which will track complaints against deputies from the public. I will create the Office of Professional Compliance to track complaints and dispositions on the outcome of the complaints. In addition, (I will) monitor the tracking of complaints against deputies that develop patterns of complaints for progressive discipline. (I also will) implement a transparent policy to release a yearly report of complaints that the OCSO received and its finding of the investigations.
How can the Sheriff’s Office relationship with the community improve?
A. Community policing. My No. 1 priority is to rebuild the trust with the community. The trust has eroded, and we need to bridge that gap between the community and law enforcement.
- Propose the Democratic Policing Model — Communities have a voice in how policing works in their neighborhoods, and incorporate that input into policies and practice
- Collaborative problem-solving between police and the community
- Implement periodic community surveys to obtain community feedback.
- Establish an open transparency with the media and the community
- Conduct an audit of use-of-force policy
- Provide a yearly report to the community
- Adopt clear and comprehensive policies on the use of force
- Make these policies public. Policies should address the use of de-escalation, less-lethal force and deadly force
- Prohibit profiling on traffic stops. Deputies will document all traffic stops, the reason, the race, gender and the deposition of the traffic stop.
- Ensure the community we are there to help and not criminalize the entire community
- Focus on positive, non-enforcement activities during citizen-police interactions such as problem-solving, situational prevention and community collaboration
- Promote “Know Your Rights” campaign to educate the public on their rights while interacting with police
- Every patrol vehicle should have a brochure which lays out the citizen-complaint procedures in English, Spanish and Creole.
- I will also conduct town halls with different communities to listen to their concerns.
- Implement periodic community surveys to obtain community feedback
- I will also recruit ambassadors from the communities which will be the voice for the community of the black and brown.
- Require deputies to work one week after the academy with nonprofit organizations: homeless, domestic-violence shelters, anti-bullying groups, Human Trafficking Task Force
B. Civilian Appeals Board. Currently at issue is the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Citizens Review Board power to compel the sheriff's deputies to appear and testify in CRB investigations by subpoena. In 2009, the 5th District Courts of Appeal agreed with Sheriff Demings that the county charter and ordinance provisions creating the CRB and authorizing it to investigate citizen complaints against the sheriff's deputies are unconstitutional and reversed the order on appeal. However, there are four different levels of CRB used throughout the United States. The one I plan to implement is the following:
- If the complainant disagrees with the outcome of an Internal Affairs Complaint investigation, their case will go to the Civilian Appeals Board, which reviews everything internal affairs had access to, including body-cam footage. Once the Civilian Appeals Board reaches a conclusion, it’s forwarded to the sheriff to determine the final course of action.
As West Orange County continues to grow, how should the Sheriff’s Office change to accommodate that growth?
We know that Orange County is a great place to live, because we know that 1,500 people are moving to Orange County every week. Because of this, the calls for service is increasing, and the calls holding are delaying police response. Therefore, it’s important that the OCSO hire more but good law-enforcement officers to meet the demand. This may also require the possibility of building a Sheriff’s Office sub-station to handle calls for service on the west side of Orange County.