BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
Daytona Beach Police Chief Michael Chitwood says his department will pay the full tuition of any Black person who would like to go through the police academy at Daytona State College with the plans of joining the local force upon completion. The education is valued at more than $4,000. Applicants must meet the requirements of a recruit.
Chitwood says he also will provide a job for the student while in the academy. The chief made that announcement Saturday at a meeting on police and community diversity at Daytona State College. The chief cited incidents in Ferguson, Mo. and South Carolina as well as Florida’s stand your ground law.
“This is a national problem,” he noted.
“People who say the officers aren’t there, they aren’t engaged. The officers are there,” community organizer Johnnie Ponder told the Daytona Times.
“We want more Black officers, but we aren’t offering as much money as other people in other places are and people will go where they get more. People go where they can get more money,” she added.
Start with perception
The Daytona Beach Police Department, the Daytona Beach branch of the NAACP, Ponder and other community groups organized the discussion on law enforcement and community relations in an effort to continue the dialogue between the two.
Dr. Randy Nelson, a criminologist and Bethune-Cookman University professor who also offers training to law enforcement agencies, was the keynote speaker along with Dr. Michael Humphries, also of B-CU.
“If I want to look at police, I can find blame there. If I want to look at community, I can find blame there. But what I want to look at is finding solutions,” Nelson said.
‘Talking at each other is over’
“That’s the whole purpose of today, to start the discussion to making a difference. The time for talking at each other is over. We have to talk to one another, and whether we like what we say or not, it has to be incorporated into the plans going forward,” Chitwood told the Daytona Times following the meeting.
“What I mean by the plans going forward is the president (Barack Obama) has put together a blue ribbon panel that issued a very, very thick report on policing in America and recommended changes.
Well, to implement those changes the whole community has to be brought on board. The changes that we are talking about, everybody in the community has to have a say on what they want to see changed, from tactics to training to screening the candidates.”
During the meeting, a key theme presented by Nelson was the power of perception.
“Start with perception? What is perception?” he polled the audience.
“My view, how I see things going on,” came answers from the audience.
“Exactly,” responded Nelson.
Jean Street or Orange Avenue
“How I view the world is as a Black male,” Nelson said of himself. “That’s my view. Everyone will have their perceptions. Whether good bad or indifferent, it’s unique to me. Perception comes with you.
Whether you were born in Timbuktu, Oklahoma. Whether you were raised on Jean Street, that’s your perception. That’s the reality of your situation.”
“Imagine if you are a 5, 6, 7-year old kid, and the only time you see law enforcement is when they have to make an arrest. What are you going to think? You will be fearful,” he said.
“If you are not getting in there and doing other things in that community, you’re [perceived as] an occupier. What would be your perspective and perception of law enforcement?”
Community activist Norma Bland added, “I’m a product of the ’60s and I can remember on International Speedway a police chief who loosed dogs on us, kicked us. But if I would have allowed my mindset to stay in that place, I would have been an Angela Davis.”
Another question from the audience was a lack of officers engaged directly in the community. Chitwood explained that many of the concerns also had to deal with cuts to the budget.
“It’s budget issues,” Chitwood explained to the Times. “When I first got here, I had 241 officers, I’m now down to the low 200s, meaning that when officers come in they spend almost their entire day running from 9-1-1 call to 9-1-1 call so that takes boots on the ground, out of the neighborhood. The first thing they do is service 9-1-1 calls. We probably answer well over 150 to 200,000 calls a year.
You break that down –that’s what the issue is.
“That’s why we fought so hard to get the grant to put cops in the schools. That’s why we tried to try to get our PAL (Police Athletic League) program to be a program that deals with education more than sports because you already have Leisure Services and we can tutor kids who need help in school for free. That’s what our Shop-With-A-Cop program, our Coffee-With-A-Cop, our citizen’s police academy, all of these things are to engage with the community. But when your resources come in and they cut everything out on you, you have to do the bare minimum, the very first thing we do is respond to the calls that come in.”
A special person
“It takes a special person to become a police officer,” Nelson continued. “Can you imagine going to work every day and your job is to look for the bad?”
“When I go to the classroom every day, I don’t go to see how many I can fail, but how many can I impart knowledge to.”
Nelson also noted how law enforcement is one of the only professions where going home each night after work isn’t a guarantee.
“What is their job?” Nelson asked the audience.
“I would think their job would be to hopefully make things better,” one audience member responded.
“The job of the police is to do just that. Their job is not to go out and kiss babies. Either you arrest them, or I’m going to shoot them when they try to come into my house at 3 in the morning,” community activist Bland added.
Cynthia Slater, president of the Daytona Beach/Volusia NAACP asked Nelson: “What takes precedent, the badge or the profession?
“They are both the same. Everybody that puts on a badge represents it. I don’t see a separation of the badge and the profession you can’t tarnish one without tarnishing the other.”
Added Slater, “Some things need to change.’’
Nelson noted, “I honestly believe that when we see wrong, we have an obligation to speak out on that wrong. Whether you are a teacher, whether you are a police officer, whether you are the lady on the street.”
During the discussion, Nelson showed a video of an officer being shot seven times and another showing a citizen being shot. Each time Nelson asked the group what happened in the videos.
Three or four different scenarios were given on each video including variations that were untrue.
In one video an officer pulls over a Black male and proceeds to shoot him after asking for his identification when he thought the individual was instead reaching for a weapon.
“How many mistakes were made?” Nelson asked the audience.
“That is the question we as police administrators have to ask,” Chitwood said, in reference to police policy and training. “Clearly it is something that we have to address. We have to look at how we train, how we screen.”
“Just because we have laws that say it’s justified (some shooting incidents) doesn’t mean it’s morally and ethically correct. If you’re in the military and that happened, your career is over.’’
Nelson chimed in, “We don’t have to all agree, and we never will. But at least we need to be able to have a conversation.”
The response from community members present at the meeting was positive overall.
“We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know whether we’d have two White people and no Black people or all Black people. We had no idea what to expect. We had room for 75 and that’s what we have here. It was such a great mix, and I just think it was a wonderful turnout, especially for a first effort,’’ said Weegie Kuendig, president of Save our Neighborhoods.