SANFORD, Fla. — Across Central Florida, law enforcement agencies take part in community policing programs to build positive relationships.
But the Spectrum News 13 Watchdog team found only one department makes it a requirement for officers: Sanford Police Department.
What You Need To Know
- Stats show Sanford has seen the sharpest dip in crime in the last 5 years
- Orlando Police, Orange and Volusia sheriff's offices have community policing policies
- Sanford Police Dept. also started a cadet program to recruit from the community
“What we are doing is we are building trust, we are having opportunities to have those conversations,” Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith said.
The idea of community policing isn’t new – but Smith says there should be a bigger focus.
He inherited the police force at the height of similar calls for change following the death of Trayvon Martin.
Smith says that new change means action.
“One of the things we require our officers do on a daily basis is get out of their cars,” Smith said.
Smith says officers get involved in the community by knocking on doors, reading books to kids or simply saying hello and engaging people in conversation.
His department also recently launched a cadet program with a focus on local recruiting.
“We are hiring officers from the community who looks like the community, speaks like the community, and has a general idea of those things that are taking place in the community,” Smith said.
Smith: Community Policing Equals Lower Crime Rate
Since 2015, Sanford PD has held more than 16,000 community outreach initiatives, including community walk and talks, meeting events, and Crime Prevention and Community Education sit-downs.
“We are actually having the ability to reduce crime in the community,” Smith said.
The stats back it up. Sanford reported a high of more than 3,300 crime incidents in 2016. That fell a little over 20 percent in 2019.
While stats show crime has also seen a decline under the other agencies, Sanford has seen the steepest decline.
“If I don’t see your face out there doing the good, what makes me trust you?” Fritz Voltaire said.
Voltaire is outreach director for Rescue Mission Outreach of Central Florida. He says having police officers become directly involved in the Sanford community is a game changer.
“The officers know 'hey, I’m being held accountable by my chief, engaging in a community that otherwise I wouldn’t be involved in',” Voltaire said.
Law Enforcement Chiefs: Opportunities to Engage are Priceless
The Orlando Police Dept., and the sheriff's offices in Volusia and Orange counties also have community policing programs, but no mandates.
Orange County Sheriff John Mina, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood, and Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon defend their policies encouraging community outreach, but stopping short of making it a requirement.
“Deputies know from our philosophy here if they are driving down the road and they see kids playing out in the road, stop and talk to them, get out of your car,” Mina said.
“Officers need to understand that every opportunity to engage a child, engage an adult, a young person, engage the elderly is priceless,” Rolon said.
“Rather than mandate service, if you are listening to your community, you are going to know what needs to be done,” Chitwood said.
“I speak to every single one of our new deputies that are hired here and I let them know that community engagement is one of my top priorities,” Mina said.
The sheriff also says a deputy’s community involvement record is taken into account for promotions.
In Orlando, Rolon says they don’t have the man hours for a mandate.
“I think, because of the number of calls for service, sometimes that has hindered the ability to reach to the community during positive encounters or non-law enforcement encounters,” Rolon said.
Sanford Police Chief Smith, however, feels it’s man hours well spent.
“If I have an opportunity to change your mind and your perspective on a police officer, and you have opportunity to change the mind of someone else, and they have the opportunity to change the mind of someone else, what we are doing is we are building trust,” Smith said.
Smith says he has a yearly budget of about $40,000 specifically for community events and activities. The department uses that money to buy items for giveaways and cookouts.