FORT MYERS, Fla. Johnny Streets wants the city to “start winning again” and believes executing the recommendations outlined in a report highly critical of the police department will help achieve that goal.
Streets and the rest of the city council, in their first meeting since the audit’s release, voted unanimously on Monday to approve new positions and equipment for the department.
One of the positions, a deputy chief, was the report’s second recommendation. The position will be a contract position that will last two years.
“It was a wake up call for some, some we already knew,” Streets said of the report. “But the mater of fact is for so long, particularly wards 1, 2 and 3, have been on the losing end of certain things. Now with this report, it gives us some hope that we will start winning again. And I think those wards, like the rest of the wards in the City of Fort Myers as a whole, Fort Myers needs to start winning again.”
City leaders also approved adding two lieutenant positions, which along with the deputy chief, will cost the city $311,062 annually.
The lieutenants will be placed in internal affairs and investigative services, said Police Chief Derrick Diggs, who added that he has hired two temporary deputy police chiefs.
“I am embracing this report,” he said. “The men and women of the Fort Myers Police Department are going to embrace this report. What’s missing from a lot of folks is that many of the officers, good officers, who allowed themselves to be interviewed that came forward and provided the information that ultimately resulted in the report all of you have.”
City leaders also approved the hiring of Douglas Molloy, a former prosecutor turned defense attorney, to provide on-call legal services for officers. Molloy would handle questions from officers, provide ongoing training in matters such as search and seizure and arrests, as well as review policies and procedures.
Council members also approved $75,000 for 24 laptops, docking stations and printers for police vehicles. The laptops will allow detectives to stay in the field instead of returning to the office, Diggs said.
Funding for the new positions and equipment will come from the city’s general fund reserves.
Hope, cooperation sought
The majority of council members expressed hope that the report will implement change within the department.
“I”m just convinced that we got what we paid for,” said Ward 5 Councilman Forrest Banks. “These guys had no connections to the local area. So when they said what they said, they were doing it because they were doing what they were supposed to be doing.”
Gaile Anthony, who represents Ward 6, said one of her platforms was revamping the department due to the number of unsolved homicides.
“I think they laid out a plan for use, which is unique to use which I think is special,” she said. “It’s not just a copy of something out there.”
Michael Flanders, who represents Ward 4, said he was proud of the report and was ready to support one of the report’s recommendations.
“It’s a great feeling to have that substation in reach of stopping and talking to someone at a substation,” he said.
Ward 1 Councilwoman Teresa Watkins-Brown asked the community to help the department improve.
“Not everyone who represents the men in blue are corrupt, but we cannot look at each one of these people and say the whole department is corrupt, because they’re not,” she said.
Terolyn Watson, who represents Ward 3, said she wasn’t surprised by most of what was in the report.
Watson said she supports Police Chief Derrick Diggs, a sentiment shared by every city council member, but believes another inquiry into the department is needed.
“I think right now I stand more with the people in saying that we do need a Department of Justice investigation because a lot of these problems are so deep-rooted,” she said. “These problems go deep. We have a lot of deep-rooted problems.”
Prior to the vote on the positions and equipment, and following a lengthy debate, Watson made a motion for either the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, State Attorney’s Office, DOJ or FBI to further investigate the department.
The motion failed in a 5-2 vote.
Watson and Streets voted in favor.
Watkins-Brown said the community should give Diggs and City Manager Saeed Kazemi an opportunity to change things.
“Give them a chance to correct the problem, and if it doesn’t work, then bring in someone from the outside,” she said.
This story is the latest in WINK News’ continuing series about the FMPD audit.