FORT MYERS, Fla. Encouraged, but not surprised.
That’s how Rev. Dr. William L. Glover took a report released this week detailing long-standing problems within the Fort Myers Police Department.
“I think the report says it. There’s a culture of denial and an over-dependency on statistics that were massaged to paint a picture of a reality that did not exist in the communities and in the neighborhoods,” said Glover, senior pastor of Mount Hermon Ministries. “I think it’s common knowledge that it’s been strained to the point where the relationship has not been very good. There’s been a high level of mistrust.”
An audit released Wednesday detailed deep-seated issues within the police department, including cronyism, “lack of effective leadership,” corruption and limited resources that have damaged the agency’s reputation and hindered its ability to solve crimes.
More than 200 current and former department employees were interviewed for the audit, which was done at the request of City Manager Saeed Kazemi and completed by Freeh Group International Solutions Inc.
“My job is to make sure the city of Fort Myers is safe,” Kazemi said. “And this report is telling me how to get there. We are gonna make sure that happens.”
Getting there, as outlined in the report, will not be easy.
“The interviewees described a culture of failure and defeatism and believed that key stakeholders have often resorted to blaming external forces, like the State Attorney’s Office and the minority community, rather than looking critically within the department in an honest effort to identify solutions,” the report said.
Glover, who is from Fort Myers and returned to start Mount Hermon 20 years ago, said the report’s findings were nothing new for Dunbar residents.
“I think the summary really confirms and validates the concerns of the community, which before now, pretty much have been dismissed as a figment of their imagination,” he said.
‘An open wound’
Much of the department’s troubles began in 2009, when a buyout eliminated many experienced officers and supervisors, forcing the agency to promote officers without adequate experience or training, the audit said.
“Many supervisors did not have significant experience conducting complex investigations, such as homicides or internal affairs investigations,” the report said. “As a result, there was a lack of understanding by these supervisors concerning complex, criminal investigations.”
Supervisors focused manpower on low-level crimes and issuing citations, which helped boost the department’s crime enforcement numbers, the report said.
“However, the most violent offenders were often not prosecuted and their crimes remain unsolved,” said the report, which can be read here.
Crimes that Glover says have severely impacted police-community relations.
“Obviously the cold cases, there’s been 200 plus cold cases since the year 2000, and that’s a lot of families that have no resolution to the loss of their loved one and to the fact that level of non-responsiveness is like an open wound to families and to communities,” he said. “Law enforcement and the prosecution of those murders really have not kept pace with the ‘innovativeness’ of criminals.”
Here’s more reaction from the Dunbar community:
‘I feel anger’
Hearing passages from the 71-page report, including the section detailing officers tipping off drug dealers, did not sit well with Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson.
“The first thing I feel is anger,” he said regarding the alleged corruption. “This is a professional operation. We have high integrity and high standards. Why aren’t we executing in that way?”
Citizens have complained to city council members about police mistreatment, but the city’s elected leaders were hesitant to get involved in daily department operations, Henderson said.
“When we have the urge to get involved, myself and council, we have to resist because we don’t run the city on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “We have two employees, that is the city manager and the city attorney. Our job is to hold them accountable unless we have information that suggests otherwise, that our city leadership is grossly negligent, making poor decisions.”
The report, Henderson said, has suggested otherwise.
“Before we got this, there was not any factual, meaningful information to council to say ‘wait a minute city manager, there is something not right with you,'” he said.
Other sections of the report bothered Henderson, including distrust of the department by fellow officers, witnesses and other law enforcement agencies because supervisors were not properly experienced.
Henderson was asked whether inexperience was a factor in the Andrew Faust murder case. The 5-year-old was killed in 2014 when bullets flew into his home during a drive-by shooting. Two men were arrested, but their charges were dropped after a key witness changed her story.
“When you look at reports like these and assert those kinds of things, it begs the question and I think the answer is yes,” he said. “We could have done better, we should have done better. When these statements are made you are saying to yourself we had a total breakdown in senior leadership in the department. Trust obviously was a big deal. If we had information leaking like it suggests, that is a huge problem.”
Henderson promised the report will not “sit on a shelf.”
“The report is going to do what it is supposed to do, give us knowledge, give us a way forward and I can promise you the city manager, the council and myself we want to get this right,” he said.
Kazemi said he is working on a plan to achieve the report’s recommendations within the next five years: