CPAC townhall: Diversity, community trust key for next Pensacola police chief
The third time was not the charm for community turnout at an open forum Thursday evening to hear from residents about what they want in the next Pensacola police chief.
After low turnout at a pair of virtual public forums in late January, two additional town halls hosted by the Pensacola Citizens Police Advisory Committee offered another chance for residents to share their thoughts.
But only about 10 people attended the first of those two town halls Thursday evening at the Fricker Community Center.
Two residents — including law enforcement expert Cedric Alexander — offered input on the new chief, saying the role needs to be filled by a person who understand the importance of diversity and the need to build trust with the community.
Anita Hemphill, a former Escambia County Sheriff’s Office deputy, told the Citizens Police Advisory Committee that she has personal experience when it comes to a lack of diversity in law enforcement.
Hemphill, who said she was the second ever Black woman to earn the rank of lieutenant at the ECSO, stressed that deputies need to understand how to communicate with minorities.
“They need to understand that when a white officer approaches a Black male and that Black male was already offended by his approach and the Black male does this,” she said, clapping her hands together, “the Black male is not getting hostile. He wants to be heard.”
Hemphill said that if a community trusts the men and women who police the neighborhoods they call home, those officers can do their jobs more effectively.
“A lot of these shootings and things on the streets, of course people know who did it. You know that there is going to be retaliation, but people are not going to talk,” she said. “They are going to take care of it themselves. Because they don’t trust the police department and that is not a good thing. We need to work harder on the street.”
Alexander’s comments mirrored many of the points Hemphill made about the value of diversity and inclusion.
A former member of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing,
Alexander has 40 years of law enforcement experience at the local, state and federal levels. The Pensacola native was brought in to assist the Pensacola Police Department in the wake of the 2019 police killing of Tymar Crawford and serves as an adviser to the Citizens Police Advisory Committee, which Mayor Grover Robinson formed last year to earlier this year to develop recommendations to improve the police department.
Alexander said Thursday that it is important the city of hire a police chief who does more than just talk about the importance of diversity, but acts on the knowledge that inclusivity is vital to running a successful law enforcement agency.
“If diversity does not have the opportunity to show herself and show who she is, then all we are doing is window dressing,” Alexander said. “You’ve got to have a chief who is sensitive, who is well read, one who understands what the basic concepts of community policing mean in how to develop a community policing environment in his or her city.”
Process for hiring Pensacola’s next police chief
City Administrator Keith Wilkins told the News Journal the city hopes to hire a new police chief by the end of March. City staff plan to begin officially advertising for the job next week.
Pensacola hired Public Sector Search & Consulting Inc. to search for the next head of the police department after the previous chief, Tommi Lyter, stepped down in December to work for the ECSO as chief deputy.
One of the first steps the consulting firm took was to speak to CPAC members individually to ask them about what attributes they want in a new chief, Wilkins told the News Journal.
The firm posed similar questions to six focus groups comprised of Pensacola residents from legal, faith and LGBTQ communities, as well as special interest groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Wilkins said. A survey to determine what characteristics citizens want in a new chief also was sent to groups such as the Council of Neighborhood Association Presidents.
The firm is distilling all of the information gleaned from those surveys, combined with citizens’ comments collected at public forums, and will present a final draft to the mayor.
“After reviewing all that information, (the mayor) will draft a solicitation to send out for candidates to respond to in a brochure, in which he will describe Pensacola, describe the community’s desires and the attributes we’re looking for in a candidate,” Wilkins said. “That should go out next week.”
Wilkins expects the city to receive between 30 and 50 applications for the job, and a specially selected contingent of city staff members will cut the number of final contenders down to about 10.
The final 10 will be put through an interview process.
“The mayor will make his recommendation to city council, and city council has to approve,” Wilkins said. “And, then, we’ve got our chief.”
The public’s next chance to comment on the city’s selection of a new police chief will be at a town hall at 6 p.m. Feb.18 at the Bayview Community Center, 2001 E. Lloyd St.
Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8680.
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