Lake County nonprofit looks to bridge relations with law enforcement, communities of color

Maurice Simmons created the Accountability in Law Enforcement Reform Team after the death of George Floyd

LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – A nonprofit group in Lake County is looking to get results by giving out grades to police departments in an effort to help build relations with communities of color.

“We all have a role or a part we can play and we realize our role may be small, but this is the path that we’ve chosen to effect change,” Maurice Simmons said.

He added that for him that role has changed over the past 16 months.

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The assistant principal at Oak Park Middle school came up with the idea for an Accountability in Law Enforcement Reform Team, or A.L.E.R.T., following the death of George Floyd.

“I felt a strong compulsion to do something to address the issue of police brutality in the Black communities. I wanted to do something beyond protesting,” Simmons said.

His group uses a rubric to critique and provide recommendations to law enforcement agencies. Grades are given to agencies based on equity and bias training, de-escalation tactics, whistleblower protection and its citizen review board.

Those who fall below a “B” like, Howey-in-the -Hills Police Department, get provided with recommendations. For example, A.L.E.R.T. will recommend a better system to track officer’s interactions, arrests and executing their use of force.

Simmons says so far agencies have had an open mind.

“We have been well received,” he said. “We’ve had a warm reception, we’ve had some substantive dialog at times it’s been very intense, but transparent.”

“Our takeaway is that is pretty simple, we’re going to continue to do what we do to increase community relationships and partnerships with businesses,” Howie in the Hills Chief Rick Thomas said

While Howey-in-the-Hills Police Department is working on adapting recommendations, others like Groveland Police Department are going beyond the grades.

Groveland police has already taken initiatives to better expand its transparency.

“It’s just another way and a reminder that we’re doing things right you know we are remaining transparent, we’re building community relationships and we’re promoting our philosophy of community policing,” Sarah Panko with Groveland Police said.

Simmons says going forward the challenge will be expanding outreach efforts, adding he needs more staff.

A.L.E.R.T has a few more law enforcement agencies in Lake County left to interview and is set to take its efforts to Orange County next as they expand their program.

About the Author:

Brian Didlake joined the News 6 team as a reporter in March 2021.