ORLANDO, Fla. – In the decade since Trayvon Martin was killed in Sanford, and especially in the last couple of years since George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, policing has rapidly evolved - perhaps the most ever in a short amount of time.
Law enforcement agencies across Central Florida have updated training, techniques and accountability measures to ensure they’re being the best public servants to and with the communities they serve and doing it with fairness and equality.
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At Daytona State College, where recruits first learn what to do and what not to, the training continues to evolve.
Instructors now teach pinning the hips, instead of the head during a takedown.
The new takedown technique keeps officers away from the spine and neck.
Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood took his training a step further, starting his own academy that teaches the techniques and the approach that he expects and demands.
“So now it’s hammered home,” Chitwood said. “You’ve done the book side, now we’re doing the practical side. It’s the same thing with community relations, de-escalation, racist policing in America, these are all things that we want our deputies to experience from day one.”
And departments like the Sanford Police Department and the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office are hiring more recruits from the cities and communities they serve to look like and understand the people they serve.
Sanford’s squad largely quit after the death of Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman. But Sanford police Chief Cecil Smith said that gave him an opportunity to change the face and faces of his department.
“Our goal wasn’t to hire the biggest, strongest people out there. Our goal was to hire people who understood, who are empathetic, who could be sympathetic, who could hold a conversation,” Smith said.
University of Central Florida police officers and many others are getting implicit bias training - addressing feelings they may have about a person and not even realize it.
School resource deputies in Flagler County are going back into the classroom as mentors, teaching students during school hours about what they do.
All SROs across Central Florida now get school resource officer “basic training” before they even step foot in a school.
And Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice has partnered with Bethune-Cookman University to guarantee students in the school’s renown Criminal Justice Program internships and jobs at the DJJ, bringing in people and perspectives from all walks of life.
New equipment is also ensuring police departments get it right, like body cameras that send a live stream back to headquarters at Daytona Beach and Orlando Police Department so supervisors can look in. The livestream also gives supervisors eyes on a situation before they arrive and can send backup immediately if an officer can’t respond to the radio.
The Florida Police Chief’s Association decided departments statewide need to update their handbook and make it clear what officers do and how they do it, so they took their old “Pillars of Policing” and refocused them on new priorities, like promoting a culture of dignity and respect, transparency and non-enforcement community engagement.
And when officers don’t get it right, new software is ensuring that supervisors take notice.
Eleven police departments across Central Florida now use a software system that tracks everything from complaints to traffic stops by race to see if there’s a pattern of bias or verify that there isn’t one.
And the way police respond to mental health calls has changed dramatically.
In Orange County, deputies estimate that a third of their calls deal with people in mental health crisis that too often escalated to violence.
Now, counselors are paired with Orange County sheriff’s deputies who are sent to situations where someone is threatening to harm themselves or someone else to talk and listen, instead of arrest.
And in Lake Mary, police started a mental health intervention group pulling together almost two dozen Seminole County businesses to volunteer their time, services, and resources - pharmacies, hospitals, doctors, counselors, churches and even food pantries - to get all kinds of help to someone in crisis after they call 911 or, ideally, before.
Also, law enforcement agencies across Florida have discovered they need to start taking care of their own.
Departments have started adding officer wellness programs and resources - ways to check on officers, offer counseling and peer support if they are struggling, and opportunities to improve their mental and physical health.