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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Jun. 24, 2020 1 month ago

West Orange police departments to review policies

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Oakland, Ocoee, Windermere and Winter Garden’s agencies are among those statewide submitting their policies for assessment, consistency and best practices.
by: Danielle Hendrix Associate Editor

Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of former police officer Derek Chauvin, as well as other incidences of police brutality, many eyes nationwide have been on law-enforcement officers.

They are calling for law-enforcement agencies across the country to revisit their policies and procedures on de-escalation and use of force — a campaign called “8 Can’t Wait” that includes policies such as requiring warning and exhausting all alternatives before shooting, comprehensive reporting and a duty to intervene.

For West Orange County’s local police departments, reviewing and revising policies is a dynamic process that occurs regularly.

“Policy is something we’re always looking (at) to make sure we stay current with law enforcement, what’s occurring in the community and per the accreditation standards,” said Ocoee Police Assistant Chief Saima Plasencia.

In Central Florida, many law-enforcement leaders are part of the Orange-Osceola Police Chief’s Association, which meets to discuss relevant issues, policies and procedures. Recently, those leaders agreed to have a central clearinghouse examine policies and make recommendations to ensure consistency among agencies.

“I really do think the Central Florida leaders have been discussing some of this before the current situation we found ourselves in,” said Windermere Police Chief Dave Ogden. “In light of everything that’s going on in society right now, certainly each and every law-enforcement agency is getting probably a plethora of emails and phone calls and letters and things of that nature — some of them very similar, others with different kinds of recommendations or suggestions. I think all the chiefs are taking those things to heart and taking a look at them, but I think it’s also really important that we make a collective conscious effort to work together.”

That’s why organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Florida Police Chiefs Association have formed subcommittees to help improve relations between law enforcement and the community and to promote policy consistency. 

“A lot of what people are asking for, we already do. We train the officers in de-escalation. They do get all the state-required training in diversity, and we’re mindful of our reporting for traffic stops.” — Winter Garden Police Chief Steve Graham

“I do know that the International Association of Chiefs of Police has been working on issues about modification of policies and procedures, and best policies and practices,” Ogden said. “I personally believe that when you look at some of these things people have written to us about, the far majority of the agencies are fulfilling the majority of those requests already.”

Winter Garden Police Chief Steve Graham said his department’s current use-of-force policy was revised in 2017. Policies aren’t static, though — each needs to be reviewed and sometimes tweaked, he said. Winter Garden, along with the other three area municipal police departments, will be submitting its policy for review.

“A lot of what people are asking for, we already do,” Graham said. “We train the officers in de-escalation. They do get all the state-required training in diversity, and we’re mindful of our reporting for traffic stops.

“The events that occurred in Minneapolis were horrible,” Graham said. “Agencies all over this country — and, for sure, here locally — have condemned the actions that occurred there. We were horrified. … It takes a long time to build trust in a community and (not long) to fracture it. … A lot of good efforts by a lot of good officers were erased by his actions that day.”

Oakland Police Chief John Peek said he, too, is taking a look at his department’s policies and will be tightening them.

“A lot of the stuff we already do — we already do a lot of what (people are) referring to,” Peek said. “There’s a couple of things I think some of us are tightening up on. However, it is a process. It’s not going to happen overnight. Our policies have to be submitted, and training has to be consistent with the policies. … We do receive training in de-escalation and our use of force, but I would love to see more training. 

“We’re trying to do what we can to be true to our community and our citizens, and if there are best practices we can do, let’s try and do them,” Peek said.

In Ocoee, Plasencia said the department meets all requirements of the “8 Can’t Wait” campaign. She added that police departments should always be willing to critically assess their own policies to ensure their own standards are being met.

“Training and policy are just part of the living, breathing, functioning of a police department, because you can’t write rules today and expect them to last forever,” Placencia said. “Sometimes, it might be that you have an internal investigation or you had something happen, and you critically look at your policy and you say, ‘You know what, that’s just not clear enough, let’s make it abundantly clear.’”

Along with having a central committee reviewing the policies of each law-enforcement agency countywide and beyond, Ogden said the chiefs met last fall with the Valencia College criminal-justice program to request additional training in several areas, including bias-based profiling and de-escalation.

“All the chiefs and sheriffs and folks we’ve talked to when we meet are very open and receptive to listening,” Ogden said. “We have been listening, and we have been putting some things in place. There’s always room for improvement, and that’s where we’re waiting right now to see.”

Danielle Hendrix is the Associate Editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. She is a 2015 graduate of the University of Central Florida, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in world comparative studies. ...

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