Sunday’s gathering of the Police Community Relations Task Force at Broward College featured speeches from law enforcement officers and community members.
The task force began in 2014 with a conversation on the House floor between Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar.
“We formed this task force because we knew that strengthening our relationships between law enforcement and the community in the wake of too many tragedies was important,” Wasserman Schultz said, referring to the most recent shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter talked with local law enforcement and students about the importance of police being involved in the community.
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Nutter, the featured speaker on Sunday, discussed his accomplishments in decreasing crime while improving community relations in Philadelphia.
“Everyone walks a beat in Philly,” Nutter said about new officers on the force. “You always have to be able to understand the other side.”
Nutter had police officers hand out cards to citizens explaining what to do if they are stopped by law enforcement. He also thinks police officers should carry similar cards outlining their expectations when dealing with the public.
“If we’re going to be upset, let’s look at both sides,” Nutter said. “All lives have to matter in this conversation.”
Nutter said that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg taught him how to see both sides when it comes to police-community relations.
“Mike Bloomberg said you can’t have a great city if people don’t feel safe,” Nutter said.
Wilton Manors Police Chief Paul O’Connell spoke on an issue he felt was being ignored.
“There are people wearing the badge that are not qualified,” O’Connell said. “We need to have a dialogue about decertifying, and that dialogue isn’t going on right now. It’s falling on deaf ears, and the deaf ears are up in Tallahassee.”
O’Connell was referring to four Fort Lauderdale police officers who sent racist messages to each other in 2014. Three of the four were fired and another resigned, but none were decertified.
Decertification prevents officers from being rehired to practice law enforcement.
“The landmines that we step on that lead to decertification are too few,” O’Connell said. “In the process, decertification needs to be demystified and streamlined. The pendulum tilts too much in favor of labor and our unions.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement does not recognize racism as a reason to strip a license from a police officer.
Wasserman Schultz moderated the conversation with local law enforcement and students after making remarks on how African Americans must be mindful of the police.
“My heart breaks that now I know what ‘the talk’ is,” Wasserman Schultz said. She said it’s “tragic and unacceptable” that families of color must tell their children to behave differently in front of police officers so they can remain safe.
Hastings was unable to attend due to a family commitment.