By Jimmie Staley
This week, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan, Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Eric Haines, Pensacola Chief of Police Chip Simmons and Assistant Chief of Police David Alexander sat down at Oscar’s Restaurant with Don Parker of WCOA to discuss the issues that have plagued Escambia County, such as officer involved shootings. Interestingly enough, David Morgan was said “Sixty six percent of unarmed suspects that are shot by officers have two things in common. They fail to comply with officer instructions, and they make furtive movements…The reaction of officers is dictated by the conduct of the person they are interacting with”.
This quote begs the question: what about the remaining thirty-four percent of unarmed people that comply with officer instructions and do not make furtive movements? What exactly constitutes this part of the population being shot? The very thought that someone could be shot by deputy without duly doing anything wrong should scare everyone. What circumstances justify that sort of shooting?
Chief Deputy Eric Haines and Assistant Chief of Police David Alexander made comments that the budget and local talent pool for deputies and officers are factors in these shootings. Chief Deputy Haines says that cadets in the academy make only $12.70 an hour and deputies can only make up to $17 an hour after two years. These circumstances are not unusual to many law enforcement agencies, yet not all law enforcement agencies have reputation of being too quick to make the decision to draw and use a weapon.
According to a police brutality lawyer San Bernardino, Pensacola and Escambia County have a source of people that is very unique. There are a great deal of veterans and former military in the area who may need to just supplement their income. They would seem to be a prime demographic. There is decent presence of young people in the area that should be perfect candidates for law enforcement. These are just passive candidates that will naturally gravitate to this field.
Then there is active recruitment. People know public servants are not paid well, yet for the sake of being a peace officer, many people will still enter the profession. Police dramas are one of the highest rated shows on television. There is an interest in being the good guy riding in on the white horse. The valor of policemen can be used, just as the military does, to act as a means to develop character and leadership while making the world a better place. The honor of serving the community should be a reverent calling for changing the bad in the world. That is one of the most powerful tools used in recruitment—honor.
Community involvement can be a useful tool. Involve law enforcement into community activities to participate one on one with the community. Build bridges within the community, rather than burn them. People need to see that there is no “us” or “them”. They need to see public servants doing good rather than blaming the community for the result of aforementioned issues. Why not have deputies get out of the cars and help in a soup kitchen once a week? Why not show the community that law enforcement wants to be seen as members of the town? Why not crack down on the bad behavior of the employees in the law enforcement agencies? One bad apple spoils the bunch. Make examples of the bad ones.
The problem in Pensacola is this reputation. The entire law enforcement profession is seen subpar or corrupt. There are stories like Victor Steen in 2009 who was tased on a bicycle by a pursuing Pensacola Policeman in a cruiser. Steen fell of his bike after being tased and the deputy ran him over, resulting in his death. The most egregious part is that Steen was not known to be of any threat to the officer.Another situation, in Escambia County, is the man who was shot at in his own driveway Sheriff’s deputies while trying to retrieve a cigarette out of his own car. These are just a couple elements in a pattern of behavior that bemoans the lack of training or leadership. Also, the employment of people, such as David Craig, Sheriff David Morgan’s Coordinator of Community Policing, whose misconduct as a certified officer with Sheriff’s office resulted in his law enforcement certification being revoked by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, gives the ECSO in particular, a questionable image. These few things tend to be an ingrained deterrent for incoming candidates. After all, who wants to be on a ship that appears to be sinking under the weight of its own hypocrisy?
The Sheriff’s department has gained the stigma based on the foundation it has built under David Morgan’s leadership. It is an “us vs them” mentality. Can anyone really be blamed for not wanting to be linked to the recurrent and consistent reputation the current department has? There is a saying-“Business goes where it is welcome. It stays when it is invited.” Is Escambia County doomed because justice is not welcome, nor invited? That may be a question to ask the Thirty-four percent of officer involved shooting victims’ families that did just what they were supposed to do.