Orange County leaders explain how they can mend law enforcement-community relationships

Mayor: Local law enforcement ‘lead with their hearts’

Following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Orange County’s former and current sheriff spoke about ongoing efforts to build law enforcement and community relations after several days of protests and demonstrations across the region.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Orange County’s former and current sheriff spoke about ongoing efforts to build law enforcement and community relations after several days of protests and demonstrations across the region.

Orange County Sheriff John Mina said his department is taking policy steps and physically going out into the community to build relationships.

On Sunday, Mina and Orlando police Chief Orlando Rolon were standing outside of Orlando Police Department headquarters as demonstrators lined up in front of the building when Mina said they had some productive dialogue with an organizer.

“We want to hear his concerns, and we are open to listening to him and he told me about a police shooting here, one of his friends, and we said ‘We understand we’ve, we’ve had friends killed in the line of duty, we understand where your pain is and we know the community is hurting,’ and they asked us to take a knee,” Mina said of the moment, adding “We’re all in this together and we should work together to solve our issues.”

Mina said he works with the Sheriff’s Office Citizens Advisory Committee on policy changes and he regularly looks to the independent group for recommendations.

“One of the things that I will be doing in the future is to once again, (give) a whole overview to my Citizen Advisory Committee on the use of force, our statistics and go over the policy once again as we have done in the past and get their input related to even recent events,” Mina said.

Mina also said there are hundreds of positive interactions between law enforcement and the community that many never hear about.

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The sheriff provided one example from this week when the Sheriff’s Office received a call from the mother of a daughter who was visibly upset about the events in Minnesota. The woman wanted to know if a deputy could come talk to her daughter.

“A woman called our 911 center, and said that her 11-year old-daughter was totally shaken up by this entire incident in Minneapolis and was real tentative about the police,” Mina explained. “So we sent two deputies there to talk to the little girl (and) mom and assure them that we are there to help. Certainly, we are not perfect but we are here to listen to you."

The sheriff said he respects everyone’s right to demonstrate but asks they do it safely. Several of his deputies were injured by rocks over the weekend in the downtown area and there have been reports of damaged businesses around the county.

“Over the past two days, we have had three deputies struck by rocks as relates to the protests that were in the downtown area,” Mina said. “And again, a number of businesses were broken into in unincorporated Orange County last night as well as in the city of Orlando.”

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, the former Orange County sheriff, said the county has been planning a candid conversation in a town hall-style format as part of its MLK initiative. He hopes to release details on the forum later this week.

The initiative “is a group of citizens here within our community who have committed themselves to embracing the philosophies of non-violence to accomplish justice, (and) civil rights,” Demings said. “Our goal is to create a vehicle by which individuals can constructively have a conversation about where we go in the short term and perhaps set a framework for where we can go long term to improve police-community relations.”

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A 40-year veteran of the law enforcement community, Demings said there is always room for improvement but he feels the county is lucky to have agencies that are committed to outreach, saying “this isn’t something that’s new for law enforcement officers to lead with their hearts and not with their the guns.”

Orange County, including the city of Orlando, remain under a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. until further notice.

Demings said the curfew was put in place, not to deter peaceful protest but to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“The decision to again institute a curfew really had nothing to do with trying to stifle individuals from being able to express their First Amendment rights, that really wasn’t our goal, my goal, again, is to stop the spread of the virus,” Demings said. "I take that role and responsibility very seriously, in this community.”

Mina said the curfew will be enforced by his deputies after businesses near downtown Orlando and in the Mall of Millennia area were vandalized Sunday night.

“We understand that people want to protest to demonstrate, and we had a long history of that in our community letting people do that," the sheriff said. "So we are going to facilitate that when we have to by blocking roadways and such but we want people to do it in a peaceful manner and then when it hits 10 o’clock, it’s time to start heading home, and we’ll enforce the curfew.”