Black leaders, residents offer positive comments about his former role as Daytona’s top cop
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
A nearly packed house at Bethune-Cookman University’s Performing Arts Center watched Tuesday as former Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood was sworn in as sheriff of Volusia County.
Chitwood was elected to the position last year after spending 10 years as the Daytona chief, where he oversaw 246 officers. The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office has around 460 sworn positions, 477 civilian and 219 volunteers according to its website.
As Daytona’s top cop, Chitwood is credited with reducing crime and improving relations between police and the community.
Chitwood was a regular at events in the Black community and was known for being approachable and available to regular citizens.
On Tuesday, he talked about diversity.
“We speak 24 different languages in this county. There are people… Black, Brown, White, Yellow and so forth. It’s all there. Our job in law enforcement is to make sure everyone gets protected evenly and fairly. No favorites in law.”
Many applaud his efforts with reaching out to the Black community.
“I think that he did well in that aspect. I don’t get in trouble, but my son has,’’ said Daytona resident Carla Jennings. “He and others that I know said that Chitwood is pretty cool. It seems that those against him are the ones breaking the law.’’
Lashara Poole moved to Daytona eight years ago from Newark, New Jersey.
She said, “I think that he did well in that aspect, but I think the police need to do more about the younger people who are fighting, breaking stuff and causing problems in Soul City (a nickname for the Garden City Apartments). I really don’t think the police are that bad down here. They are where I’m from.”
Others don’t believe that much has changed.
“I don’t think the gap has been bridged that much between the Black community and the police.
Chitwood could have if he had stayed longer. He may do it more as sheriff because he knows the mistakes made as police chief. Also, he’s at a larger force with more authority and has a better grip of how to handle things,” responded a resident who would only identify himself as Smokey.
The Rev. Derrick Harris worked with Chitwood as a businessman and clergy in Daytona Beach.
Harris is pastor of Master’s Domain Church of God in Christ and serves as president of the Black Clergy Alliance. He also owns Cut Master’s Barbershop.
“I absolutely think that he improved race relations between the police and the Black community.
He was hands-on. He met with business leaders, community leaders and clergy. He rode his bike and walked through the community by himself at times. He was very direct and didn’t beat around the bush,” explained Harris.
Cynthia Slater, president of the Volusia County/Daytona Beach NAACP branch, worked with Chitwood on many issues.
“I think during his tenure the relationship between the police and community has improved,” she told the Times. “In the past, we had several complaints against the police for excessive force, racial profiling, unlawful arrests and abuse of power. Chitwood always met with us to discuss the issues.
We had open dialogue and discussions to improve things.”
People are curious to see what he will do as sheriff.
“I am excited to see what he will do on the county level. I hope he does the same or even better,” Harris remarked.
During his campaign, Chitwood said that he wanted to take better care of his employees, make the sheriff’s office more accessible and open, and use technology and modern techniques to fight and reduce crime.
On Tuesday, he cited the use of technology. “We will fight crime in real time from our squad cars with technology cameras, tag readers and so forth,” he said.
He also talked about being accessible and open.
“To the community and our deputies, I pledge to be a 24/7 accessible, transparent and listen to the concerns of deputies and citizens. The new sheriff added that “everyone will have a seat at the table’’ to address their problems regardless of race or religion.’’
He added, ““The sanctity of human life will be at the center of everything we will do.”
‘Much to be done’
With reports of police brutality, shootings and killings of unarmed Blacks in other cities around the country, Slater is aware that more challenges lie ahead locally.
“There is still much to be done,” she said about the city, “including initiating a citizen’s review board, community policing, increased minority hiring, ensuring accountability and transparency within the department.”
The next chief
The city hasn’t announced plans for the next police chief. Longtime officer and current Deputy Chief Craig Capri has been appointed the interim chief.
Daytona Beach also has faced lawsuits for discrimination, including its hiring and promoting of minorities.
The city did not respond to a request for comment on minority candidates by the Times’ Wednesday night deadline.
“I am certain that there are minority candidates that have the experience and qualifications. The NAACP wishes that any qualified candidate regardless of their race are recognized for the job. We know that the hiring process is difficult. It should be scrutinized by city leadership and input from community leaders should be taken into consideration,” Slater added.