DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Over the summer, the Florida Police Chief’s Association (FPCA) released its recommendations from its Subcommitee on Societal Change and Accountability after a year of discussions and meetings.
Twenty-three police chiefs and community leaders from around the state expanded on the Six Pillars of Policing from the 2015 Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, prepared by the Federal Office of Community Oriented Policing Services:
- Building trust & legitimacy
- Policy & oversight
- Technology & social media
- Community policing & crime reduction
- Training & education
- Officer wellness & safety
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Daytona Beach Shores Public Safety Director Stephan Dembinsky is the current president of the FPCA, the second largest association like it in the country.
“For the most part we do a lot of this but it had never been put into a solid foundation before,” Dembinsky said. “I think some of the tweaks were to make sure that we did not stop doing good solid police work in Florida. We in Florida have always been, I’ve felt, ahead of the curve. We’ve been teaching de-escalation. I’ve been a cop 44 years, we’ve been teaching de-escalation for pretty much as long as I’ve been a cop. We used to call it ‘verbal judo.’ Florida has a different outlook on policing and I think people in Florida have a different outlook on policing. I’ve had people tell me how happy they are that they live in Florida rather than these other states that have borne the brunt of this anti-policing (sentiment) that we haven’t seen in Florida. That’s not to say we can’t always get better.”
Dembinsky, who has been both the police chief and fire chief in Daytona Beach Shores for the past 24 years, oversaw the creation of the 31-page report and its recommendations, like promoting a culture of dignity and respect, and transparency, and non-enforcement community engagement.
“There’s room for improvement for everybody,” Dembinsky said. “My officers are constantly in the community, constantly meeting people, talking to people. Chiefs that are successful have found that that transparency and that cooperation with citizens in their community has worked wonders. Secrecy does not bode well for anything. And I’ve found in my career it’s better to be upfront, it’s better to be transparent, and it helps people understand why you do what you do.”
As the FPCA’s president, Dembinsky’s role includes encouraging all departments statewide to adopt the recommendations. There are 900 members of the FPCA.
“Let me put it this way, I have not heard from any chief that this is ridiculous, (that) you don’t need to do this or that,” Dembinsky said. “The chiefs have bought into this. The assistant chiefs have bought into this. Civilians on the subcommittee have bought into this. I have not heard one negative thing about any of these pillars. Some chiefs are saying well this doesn’t really affect me. We all read this and thought some of the stuff is a big deal and we’re not doing what we need to do to make this right.”
Dembinsky said there are two opportunities for improvement statewide, starting with officer wellness.
“We’ve neglected the wellness part of the police officers and first responders,” Dembinsky said. “Very often it’s not a pleasant job, and there are some very, very bad things that happen. And we see things that most people will never see I hope in their lifetimes. I don’t want anyone to have the fear of losing their job, a career that they love, because they’re having trouble sleeping at night or having bad dreams. It’s very important to us to have our officers as sharp as they can be and as willing to do this job as they can be without fear of losing it because they’re having problems.”
Another opportunity for improvement: body cameras.
“My officers will not go out on the street without a body cam, they just will not go,” Dembinski said. “Because they know how it shows how professional they are, it shows that they do their jobs right. There are still some cities that can’t afford them or they don’t want to get involved with them. But I think that body cam should be on every officer.”
Dembinki said he is now sharing the FPCA’s recommendations with all police associations across the country.