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Waveney Ann Moore: A possible bridge for community and police collaboration

Waveney Ann Moore

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Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter and community activist Marilyn Turman at a Community Family Fun Night Appreciation Banquet in 2016. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Turman.

Black Lives Matter. Blue Lives Matter. Should one cancel out the other? Or be pitted against the other?

In these confrontational times, such questions are guaranteed to cause proponents on both sides to unsheathe a raft of verbal daggers.

But a recent collaboration between community leaders and the Florida Police Chiefs Association demonstrates that détente is possible – even desired.

Evidence of this was on display a week ago when St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway held a press conference to announce a new Florida Police Chiefs Association report laying out recommendations for improving policing statewide.

It’s the work of months of deliberation by members of the association’s Subcommittee on Accountability and Societal Change, comprised of 11 community leaders and a similar number of law enforcement representatives and experts assembled from across the state.

Marilyn Turman, a community activist from Clearwater, was among those whose assessments about policing and subsequent proposals for reform helped produce the report. An independent business consultant with the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corporation and a local leader, Turman was invited to participate in the statewide discussions by Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter.

She was honored to be asked, Turman told me this week. “I am vocal. I’ve worked with Chief Slaughter on a number of things. He knows that I’m going to come to him when there are issues, and I am all for giving accolades when they are deserved, and vice versa.”

It’s worth noting that the group of community leaders and Florida law enforcement officials was assembled following the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. The subcommittee’s crucial mission was “to develop a series of proposals that could be implemented at the local and state level to enhance trust, ensure transparency and accountability, and strengthen relationships between the police and the communities they serve.”

Turman and other community leaders seized the opportunity to offer their insight on an issue that roiled the nation the past year.

“One of the things that I really appreciated in this was we were able to be open and candid. We didn’t have to be reserved because we were talking to police chiefs. One of the community leaders talked about the history of police, that they were used to intimidate Black people. The perception of some is that they just traded their white sheets for uniforms,” she said.

“It was nice to hear not only in that presentation, but hearing from some of the police officers that if a community has been subjected to bad police officers, then, of course, they are going to have negative thoughts about police. Perception is reality for some. You can change policies, but you can’t change people on the inside unless they desire to change. There’s implicit bias, biases that we all carry based on our experiences, what we believe to be true, stereotypes … But all of us don’t carry guns.”

That was the sort of straightforward talk law enforcement executives heard from people who know their communities.

“They opened our eyes up,” Holloway, chair of the subcommittee, said during last week’s press conference. “They really showed us that if we listen and have that conversation, that difficult conversation, that we all want the same thing, a safe community.”

There was criticism, Slaughter acknowledged, but noted that community leaders also expressed “a tremendous amount of respect” for the job police officers do and want them to be supported when they do it properly and held accountable when they do not. 

“The officers that operate with integrity, they cannot keep quiet,” Turman said this week. “That blue code of silence, it puts a bad mark on all of them. We saw what happened with George Floyd.”

The subcommittee’s discussions focused on a review of six topic areas, or “pillars,” from the 2015 Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Specifically, those areas were building trust and legitimacy; policy and oversight; technology and social media; community policing and crime reduction; training and education; officer wellness and safety.

The report that followed listed numerous “action items,” with specific priorities, for law enforcement and communities to implement. It addresses, among other matters, promoting a culture of treating people with dignity and respect, community input and involvement and standardizing a culture of transparency and accountability.

This one caught my eye. “When a serious use of force incidence or police misconduct case occurs, agencies should communicate with citizens and the media swiftly, openly, and neutrally, respecting areas where the law requires confidentiality.”

Here’s another. “Create forums for the community to have easy and ready access to officers to discuss their concerns.”

Turman is hopeful about the path forward. “It is my hope that as law enforcement and community members continue to engage in open and honest dialogue, with an earnest desire to seek solutions, meaningful change is attainable,” she said. “I remain hopeful.”

In a statement, Florida Police Chiefs Association president Stephan Dembinsky touted the subcommittee’s work “as an example that progress and success are possible – especially at the local level.”

Dembinsky, director of Daytona Beach Shores Public Safety Department, added that the subcommittee members and the association “welcome reform measures that are factual and balanced, ever mindful of the dedication and sacrifice of law enforcement officers, but equally committed to public safety and accountability.”

For Turman, a founding member and communications director of the Clearwater Urban Leadership Coalition, it’s important that law enforcement makes positive connections with the communities it serves. That’s happening in Clearwater, she says, mentioning an annual Community Family Fun Night that draws more than two thousand people for an event that includes entertainment, vendors, career and educational institutions and law enforcement.

“This is an event that the community looks forward to every year. I can say that the Clearwater Police Department has been very engaged with us. Chief Slaughter, when he first got that position, I asked him, as a way of greeting the community, would he agree to getting into the dunk tank. And it was wonderful.”

Turman says the Police Chief continues to make himself available to the community and listens to their concerns. She spoke of an incident in which two young Black men were wrongfully detained. They had stopped at a convenience store and as they were leaving, a man from the business next door accidentally triggered his alarm. His associate, checking a remote camera, saw the young men driving off, assumed they had set off the alarm and called police. They arrived with guns drawn.

Turman called the Chief about the incident. He reviewed the report and “made sure that I understood that they had received inaccurate information from the business owner and police responded based on the information provided,” she said. Slaughter has since made policy changes to avoid those types of encounters, Turman said.

“I am grateful that we have a chief that we can talk to. I’m not saying that he is perfect or flawless, but none of us are.”

I asked former St. Petersburg Police Chief Goliath Davis, the first African American to lead the city’s police department, what he thought of the subcommittee’s recommendations. They are a step in the right direction, he said, but his praise was tepid.

“The problem I have is you can implement all of those recommendations as we have done before, but absent of accountability, nothing is going to change,” he said. “If you follow what has changed since the George Floyd murder, basically, we are on track to have the same number of police shootings as prior to the Floyd decision, shooting and protests. And one would assume, given the tragedy of the incident and the protests that ensued, one would expect that we would have different outcomes.”

He hammered the accountability issue, decrying administrators who avoid firing officers and allow cases “to flow into arbitration and courts, where officers have the upper hand with respect to credibility and outcomes typically favor them.”

As police chief, one of his main tenets was accountability, Davis said: “I wasn’t really interested in trying to change your heart. My job was when you put the uniform on and you hit the streets of St. Petersburg, you were going to comply with the rules and regulations of the organization and the laws of the land.”

Davis doesn’t absolve the community. “When I speak of accountability, I’m not just speaking of accountability in terms of the police. The community must also stand up and denounce acts that they know are wrong and inappropriate,” he said.

“So, when the individual is wrong, don’t justify the behavior because an officer is on the other side.  You can’t denounce inappropriate police behavior and then condone inappropriate community behavior.”

It takes courage to scold members of one’s community, especially since race is at the core of many police disputes. But if Black people and other people of color want to right the wrongs of bias and abuse, it’s important to claim the moral high ground.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Carl Richard Lavender

    August 20, 2021at4:34 pm

    Marilyn is a terrific Clearwater Leader. She’s been faithful and true for many years.

  2. Avatar

    Jack Levine - 4Generations Insitute - Tallahassee

    August 20, 2021at6:17 pm

    This coverage presents a powerful community partnership that meets so many important goals…opening multi-sector communication,establishing mutual respect, and establishing achievable outcomes for safety. Wavaney Ann Moore has an engaging style of story-telling that both informs and inspires. Great work all around.

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