KISSIMMEE, Fla. - It wasn't a 911 call that brought Officer Matthew Baxter face-to-face with his accused murder, Everett Miller, Kissimmee Police Department officials said. Instead, it was a community contact, part of a nearly year-long program initiated by Police Chief Jeff O'dell.
"In the past year, Chief O'dell has made this his mission that we are going to get out of our cars and we are going to be human," the Police Department's spokesperson, Stacie Miller, said.
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She said it was an effort toward "humanizing the badge," a priority of the department's to get officers out into the community making contact with those who live there, and that was what Officer Baxter was doing when he made contact with three people, including Miller.
"He was doing a community contact," Stacie Miller said.
Stacie Miller said their department encourages its officers to check in with community members and that Baxter was doing that when he came in contact with those three people Friday night.
She said the community contacts aren't only meant to lead to arrests or check up on suspicious activity, but are often meant to build a relationship with those who live in neighborhoods that are part of officers' beats.
"So if you see somebody out mowing their grass, stop, talk to them. That's what we want -- to engage with our community, because if we engage with our community, they are going to be more apt to give us more information to stop the crime in the area," Stacie Miller added.
Since the program launched Oct. 11, the department said officers have made 7,557 contacts, but this was the first that ended with two officers being shot.
Regeus Brinson was raised in North Kissimmee and said he grew up with and was good friends with the accused murderer, but that there is no excuse for any cops being killed.
Brinson said there is more to the story when it comes to the Police Department's relationship with the community in North Kissimmee. He said the community contacts often get controversial.
"A lot of these people don't speak up about it because they are so browbeaten for so many years," Brinson said. "Just 'cause you have a badge on your chest and you got the authority of law enforcement behind you, that should make you more aware to be more sensitive to people when you encounter people, because people nowadays are already scared of you. "
And fear is the last thing Chief O'dell wants for both the officers and the community. The department said ti recognizes that the relationship is strained, but that it will continue to make contact with the community in an effort to heal.
"Yes, we are down two. Yes, we are hurting. But we need to heal together," Stacie Miller added.
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