‘We are focused on racial equality:' Changes proposed to Orlando Police Department

Commissioners want more de-escalation training, transparency

ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando city commissioners met virtually Monday morning for the first of several budget hearing workshops for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

The workshops are designed to discuss the proposed budget and the city's efforts to create racial equity.

The city is proposing to refocus about $4.5 million to the Orlando Police Department’s budget.

This comes after protesters spent weeks marching through Orlando fighting for equality after George Floyd was killed in police custody.

"We are focused on racial equality and inclusivity" said Commissioner Regina Hill.

Commissioners, city staff and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer discussed possibly hiring an equity official designed to make change and further address racial equity. They also plan to enhance de-escalation training. In addition, they’re working to implement a pilot co-responder program to engage mental health professionals and social workers.

“The idea would be they’re responding instead of sworn personnel or with sworn personnel to certain types of calls,” Dyer said. “From the protesters to the faith community just listening to what they’d like to see. So at the top of the list is descalation training.”

The city also is proposing adding more staff to better review use of force cases.

“Honestly I think if we have more women in positions of authority in the police department, that will help with use or force as well - because women tend to descalate things. It’s just part of our charm,” Commissioner Patty Sheehan said.

Points from the city’s presentation that outline how the $4.5 million could be spent are copied and pasted below:

  • Creating a dedicated community oriented policing team, comprised of 10 new officers who will focus on working collaboratively with residents to address community concerns and cultivate positive relationships.
  • Piloting co-responder models that engage mental health and social service professionals on calls involving individuals experiencing homelessness or a mental crisis. This model aims to provide a more compressive response with trained professionals in these areas to help provide additional support services.
  • Enhancing response to resistance investigations by creating a new dedicated team to provide additional oversight and transparency.
  • Funding mental health professionals who will work directly in the department to offer and expand direct access to mental health assistance for officers.
  • Engaging an educational institution to provide officers with intercultural competence assessment evaluations to strengthen their cultural competence and ensure more equitable interactions between officers and the community.

With a push to add more of an effort on community policing, Hill said she’s all for it, but she also believes there should be funding for more community-based and mentoring organizations, like My Brother’s Keeper, for example.

“I’m saying fund these programs as we move forward with funding the police,” Hill said.

The city is also expanding its Parramore Kids Zone program.

The public will have a chance to weigh in on the budget in September. Commissioners will vote September 21.

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