Sgt. Fred Jones is the supervisor over the Internal Affairs division at the Lake County Sheriff’s Office so he sees all of the complaints that come in from citizens about his deputies.
He’s proud to say they’re down - at the county jail with corrections officers and on the road with patrol deputies.
“Sometimes it’s just those extra 5 seconds to say ‘I’m sorry,’ or those first 5 seconds to explain why you there,” Jones said. “It’s those little things that can change people’s perception of us as law enforcement.”
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Jones said it’s during traffic stops that deputies have the most interaction with citizens.
And Jones, who is black, said he learned early on how traffic stops can shape opinions of police.
He was 17 when he was first stopped by police. A member of the high school track team, Jones was out for a run when an unmarked patrol car pulled up next to him and an officer approached him.
“He went to the car and the person opens the glove box and there was a gun, and so I ran, I ran around the building and they were patrol cars everywhere,” Jones said. “They said someone’s house about two blocks away had been broken into and I fit the description. And I tried to tell them, ‘look I’m running, that’s all I was doing.’ But I complied with them and they took me back to the house, and they brought the elderly lady out, and it was probably the most scary moment of my life because I thought she was going to identify me as the person, and I actually saw myself going to prison.”
Jones told that story to protestors when hundreds gathered on a corner in Clermont in June after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“They were concerned that something in Minneapolis could happen here,” Jones said. “We were able to talk to them and say look, this is what we have in place, these are our core values, this is what we will not tolerate from our Law Enforcement Officers. They walked away knowing that we do have that professionalism and training here.”
Since then, he’s ensured that professionalism and training are front and center at the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
Jones is also a trainer at the police academy so he can reach recruits and ensure what they’re learning and not learning is right, ethical and fair.
Jones and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office were among the first in Central Florida to participate in the “R.I.T.E.” Academy - Racial Intelligence Training and Engagement.
“We talked about how to check ourselves in the morning when we wake up, where am I emotionally,” Jones said. “What can I do about it.”
Jones said the training teaches deputies to slow down the situation and take a breath, among other things.
“If you send broke people to broke people, it’s not going to solve the problem,” Jones said. “And what I mean by that is people look at the uniform, they look at us going out to serve the public, there’s so much behind the scenes. They’re Law Enforcement Officers dealing with family issues who are dealing with medical issues, and they’re supposed to suppress this and do their job.”
RITE also teaches empathy, Jones said.
“There are a lot of people out there in pain and we don’t always understand their pain,” Jomes said. “And if we’re not careful we’re quick to judge them. Just to be blatantly honest, being a black man I understand a lot of pain. I understand a lot of what people go through in certain communities. And maybe I don’t appreciate the way they display their pain but I understand their pain.”
Jones said Lake County’s smaller size is an advantage over larger communities because it’s allowed him to personally get to know a good bit of the community he serves.
“I’ve gotten to know families prior to where I’ve had to respond to their homes,” Jones said. “That helps ease people’s concerns, that in itself says a lot.”