SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Newly promoted Capt. Cornelius Blue rose through the ranks of the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office over the last three decades after making a promise to his grandmother in 1990.
She was thrilled about his desire to serve his community. The rest of Blue’s family, living in the historically black community of Sanford’s Goldsboro, was not.
“I’m not excited to talk about it, but my uncle he had a rough past, had he had some encounters with law enforcement one in particular that I witnessed and it scarred me,” Blue said. “I had a strong desire to want to serve, it was in me as a calling. And when my grandmother spoke to me few days before she passed away, I committed to her that I would do something uniquely different in the family. She gave me her blessings and she wept and we loved on each other and it was the last time I ever saw my grandmother.”
Blue now serves his community not just as a Seminole County Deputy Sheriff but also as a minister under Pastor Paul P. Wright at Calvary Temple of Praise, both in Goldsboro.
“How can I not be in Ministry and law enforcement,” Blue said. “I believe it’s one.”
Blue, through his church, other churches, and his longtime connection to the community, searches for young minority men who have the same desire to serve as he did. Blue enrolls them in the Sheriff’s Office’s minority recruitment and scholarship program.
“Any law enforcement agency should have people working for them that is a reflection of the community at the organization, so that’s what we strive for here,” Blue said. “And with all the incidents around the country, what better resolve then having someone from the community working for the organization.”
Blue said he uniquely understands the feeling of distrust of law enforcement that some young men in his community may have.
“The community is pushing for change, they want to see more representation, people who look like them and interact with them, and I believe then what you have is someone who is more understandable, you can converse with them, and I believe will get better results,” Blue said.
Any minority candidate -- ideally, someone with a military background, diploma, or a strong desire to serve -- selected for recruitment is given a full scholarship.
“We pay for their Academy, and they’re essentially working full-time receiving a salary while they’re in school or the academy and is being paid for by the Sheriff’s Office,” Blue said.
Sheriff Dennis Lemma said after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, he wanted to modernize the Sheriff’s Office in any places that it was lagging and created a task force to suggest change where necessary.
Already, for the past 20+ years, the Sheriff’s Office had been turning to it Citizen’s Review Board, or CRB, a group of 17 members of the community, for guidance and review of use-of-force incidents.
But now, Lemma said the Sheriff’s Office also turns to the CRB to evaluate new ideas from the sheriff and deputies to make sure they are sound, appropriate and useful.
Lemma also did away with a longstanding policy that automatically eliminates a candidate for consideration who has smoked marijuana in the past five years. Lemma said he discovered from his hiring department that good candidates were being turned away after admitting to smoking recreational marijuana in states where marijuana has been legalized.
And Lemma added the minority recruitment and scholarship program through the connections of Blue.
“We understand this business has not been as attractive for minority applicants in particular,” Lemma said. “We wanted do a better job of recruiting minorities and people with the level of diversity to help police and provide service to our community.”
The Sheriff’s Office now also recruits at historically black college and universities.
Blue said already the Sheriff’s Office is looking to hiring several minority recruits as deputies or corrections officers.