‘I’m a person under this:’ Orlando police recruits meet with community members, veteran officers

Community building happens 1 day after 15-year-old boy found fatally shot in Parramore

ORLANDO, Fla. – Nine recruits with the Orlando Police Department spent their Wednesday meeting virtually with community members and veteran police officers. A large portion of their day was spent discussing community relations and better bridging the gap.

This coming one day after a 15-year-old boy was shot and killed in Orlando’s Parramore community, and the chief said hours later at a press conference hours that hardly anyone came forward to help them solve the crime.

“We need to keep building that relationship with the community so they can feel comfortable and trust us,” said officer Christopher Perez, a new recruit with the Orlando Police Department.

Melonie Hoos hopes her experience as a teacher for the past 7-years can help her transition now as a police officer.

“Being able to see a situation and bring it down if someone else is escalating it is definitely something I’m able to do,” said Officer Hoos, a new recruit with the Orlando Police Department.

The new recruits said they’re committed to working to understands the importance of listening to residents and hearing their perspectives.

New recruit, 22-year-old Wakens Leonard said that as a Black man especially, he understands the frustrations many residents may have now with police.

“I want you to know that I’m a person under this, and the uniform is not something to be afraid of. Get to know me, and I want to get out and know who you are and work with you,” said Leonard.

He said he also sees the value of being a Black officer working in a Black neighborhood. But, in general he said, regardless to where he patrols, it starts with simply getting to know residents.

“We’re here to build the community and that’s what the new recruits and OPD has always been about,” said Leonard.

As far as people in Parramore not speaking up a lot about the 15-year-old killed, Leonard said, “Hearing that no one came out is pretty tragic and depressing to hear, but it shows that we have more steps and strides to take too to help build the community.”

Bennie Daniels lives in Paramore and said he’s working to better trust the police, but he’s had some bad experiences that’s made it tough.

“Don’t just start judging a book by its cover,” Daniels said. “They need to stop stereotyping people because you live in a certain area or you walk a certain way.”

He told News 6 when crimes happen, some residents may not want to talk to police because they don’t trust them or they don’t like them.

As far as those nine new recruits, they’ll be sworn in Thursday and then will undergo several months of field training before working as patrol officers alone.

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