Improving relationship between police and community paramount, ex-mayor tells Broward task force
By Brian Ballou
Just hours after three police officers were fatally shot in Baton Rouge, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee hosted a wide-ranging discussion on improving the relationship between police and communities of color.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, held the event at Broward College on Sunday. Wasserman Schultz and Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, created the Task Force on Law Enforcement and Community Relations in 2014 to bring together law enforcement, civic leaders, students and educational leaders from South Florida.
Keynote speaker Michael Nutter, former mayor of Philadelphia, commended the task force.
"You should all be very proud of what is happening here today, it is not going on in all parts of America, it is actually very unique," said Nutter.
Nutter said eight officers were fatally shot during his two terms, five in his first 14 months. He urged police and the public to come to a better understanding of each other to avoid heated interactions that could potentially take a deadly turn.
"Trust, training and transparency, you must have those three elements in this conversation," he said.
Approximately 100 people, including about a dozen uniformed police officers, attended the discussion at the college's Institute of Public Safety. Several Broward County mayors, including Miramar's Wayne Messam, Weston's Daniel Stermer and Sunrise's Mike Ryan, attended. Hastings was unable to attend.
Wasserman Schultz mentioned her children during her comments, saying they would likely be treated different than teens of color.
"We must fight to change that difference, it's a moral imperative," she said.
Ryan said policing can be an all-encompassing job, with officers thrust into communities grappling with deeply entrenched socioeconomic problems such as joblessness, blight, drugs and failing schools.
"We ask so much, yet when there is a failure, we recognize that accountability is key," Ryan said.
Broward Sheriff's Deputy Trazell McLeod, a recent graduate of the college's law enforcement training program, said that training is demanding.
"There are programs, procedures in place to weed out those who shouldn't be cops," he said.
Hallandale High School principal Mark Howard said he often engages students in discussions about their perceptions of police.
"Perceptions, biases, misperceptions, those things are very real," Howard said. "We're often trying to tear down those perceptions."
Nutter is part of President Barack Obama's task force on 21st century policing, Wasserman Schultz said.
"It's very similar to what we've been doing in the last year and a half ... he's working to unify the country, we're working to unify Broward County," Wasserman Schultz said.