SANFORD -- The city of Sanford took its first step toward fixing its damaged police department Friday, when an interim chief took the helm of the troubled force.
Richard Myers, former police chief of Colorado Springs, will be tasked with conducting a sweeping review of the police department to determine if any long-standing problems led to the fiasco that cost the prior chief his job.
At a news conference Friday, Myers acknowledged that many professional colleagues gave him stern advice: Turn and run in the opposite direction.
I will study and learn and listen, Myers said. Most of all, I will listen.
Myers will hold the job for three months or longer, City Manager Norton Bonaparte said.
The veteran law enforcement officer was hired to temporarily replace Chief Bill Lee, who continues to collect his $102,000 salary while on leave of absence.
Lee was forced out of the job after just 10 months over how he handled the investigation into the killing of Miami Gardens teenager Trayvon Martin. Lee made public statements that appeared to support the version of events offered by Trayvons killer, George Zimmerman. That put him in the crosshairs of the black community here and leaders around the country.
Lee was accused of bungling the investigation, which was ultimately reassigned to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and a special prosecutor.
Community activists here say the Trayvon debacle was but the latest in a years-long pattern of difficulties with the Sanford Police Department and its ability and willingness to investigate crimes involving African Americans.
People are tired of this. People are getting murdered and killed, said Oscar Redden, who leads a nonprofit group called Brothers Keeper and attended Fridays news conference. If they intended to do the right thing, they would have dealt with the Chief Lee issue and gotten that out of the way.
The city commission recently declined to accept Lees resignation, deciding instead to wait for an outside review.
Myers, who is white, said he has a long history of promoting diversity in the cities where he has worked. He has held police-chief positions in Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. He began his career 35 years ago in Detroit, and has a masters degree in criminal justice from Michigan State University.
He was forced out of his job as chief in Colorado Springs in October, when a new strong-mayor form of government took hold in City Hall and rid the city of every department head, he said.
News coverage of his time in Colorado Sprints shows his tenure was embattled from the start. In Myers first days on the job, an officer was killed, and shortly afterward an entire city block burned down.
That set the tone for one crisis after another. I wouldnt say crisis management is my preferred mode, but I have experience with it, he said.
Myers created a special violent-crime task force to combat rising homicides, but before long his special program fell victim to budget cuts.
He was dogged by controversies, including the arrest of an officer for molesting children and a botched sting at a Hooters restaurant, which came under fire when a video showed the arrested waitress had not served alcoholic beverage to anyone who was obviously inebriated.
Myers stressed that his first order of business will be to build relationships with the disenfranchised. He said bias-based policing is a national problem that ceased getting the attention it deserves after the attacks of 9/11.
He was selected over candidates from within the department because Bonaparte specifically wanted someone who had experience as chief of police, the city manager said. He said he interviewed a couple of candidates, but would not specify how many.
Hes very impressive, Bonaparte told The Miami Herald in an interview this week. I look forward to having his wealth of experience.