‘Turn the system on its head:’ Volusia County Sheriff revisits new training initiatives

Taking resources from police not the answer, sheriff says

VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – As calls for defunding the police reignite amid another deadly police shooting in Minnesota, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood says taking money and resources away is not the answer.

“Everything that goes wrong in society gets shoved down to the cops,” Chitwood said. “We get it. Whether it’s mental health, drugs, homelessness, you think of it. Why aren’t cops dealing with that? Because the system is broke, and we’re the last line of defense against something. We’re trying to turn the system on its head.”

Since taking office in 2017, Chitwood has pioneered new programs and training to help his deputies prepare for different scenarios.

Right out of the gate, he started with de-escalation training, where deputies learned how to end stressful encounters peacefully.

As a result, Chitwood said the number of use of force incidents within the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office has dropped from 122 the year he took office to 87 the next year. In 2019, there were 65 incidents.

Sheriff Mike Chitwood said use of force incidents were cut in half over the last three years to only 65 reported in 2019. (Copyright 2021 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

“Fifty percent,” Chitwood said. “Do you know when we first embarked on this de-escalation training — time, distance and cover — I got yelled at and screamed at? ‘You’re going to get deputies killed.’ ‘Someone’s going to die.’ What you see is injuries to deputies have dropped 50 percent, injuries to suspects have dropped 50 percent, and crime has dropped by double digits.”

Volusia County deputies were given body cameras to be turned on whenever they interacted with the public, and they also trained on how to deal with people who may be battling mental illness.

This summer, Chitwood said he cannot wait to start his own police academy.

So, why haven’t more police departments adopted the same policies?

“Fear of change, and, ‘we’ve always done it this way,’ and ‘this is the way it’s going to be,’” he said. “That is something I’ve always hated. I hated it when I was a young cop hearing somebody say, ‘well, why are we doing this?’ It’s kind of stupid to have someone say, ‘shut up kid. This is the way we’ve always done it. It’s worked for 50 years.’”

Volusia County Deputy Kaelin Darcy said she’s gone through all of the training. She also said she has lost friends because of what she has learned.

News 6 reporter Erik Sandoval rides with Volusia County Sheriff's Deputy Kaelin Darcy. (Copyright 2021 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

“Why can’t you shoot them in the leg? Why can’t you have shot him in the arm? Because when somebody’s pointing a gun at me, your heart rate is elevated, and now you’re stressed, and you’re trying to shoot a gun out of someone’s hand,” she said. “I try to (educate them), but a lot of times they don’t want to listen. So, that’s where I’ve lost most of my friends because they didn’t want to hear the explanation I had.”

Darcy has also undergone implicit bias training.

“I think if someone’s racist and they know they’re racist, it’s not going to help,” she said. “For the normal person who goes around every day — like a normal cop who has no biases or isn’t racist — it can be an eye-opener to say, ‘maybe, you do have some biases.”

Darcy said the training was enlightening.

“It was. You grow up thinking a little beat-down Honda is an addict or a drug dealer or something like that. More often times than not, it’s a college kid that couldn’t afford a nicer car,” she said.

Chitwood said all of this training is just the beginning.

“Are we perfect? Hell, no, but I think we’re all striving for perfection. Not mediocrity,” he said.

The Florida House Judiciary Committee approved a proposed bill on Thursday designed to create a structured training plan for law enforcement across the state.

Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, told News 6 the senate is eagerly looking forward to passing it.

About the Author:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.