FORT MYERS, Fla. Nicole Waid was an outsider who knew of the dysfunction inside the Fort Myers Police Department.
Waid, formerly the chief assistant U.S. attorney for Southwest Florida, described a department that isolated itself from the community and other law enforcement agencies to the point that it “created a lack of resources and a lack of an ability to actually solve crime.”
“You had administrations before them who, when other state and local and federal agencies would go and say ‘hey do you need help because we want to help you,’ there was almost this ‘we don’t want your help because we don’t want you to know what’s been going on,'” said Waid, who was the region’s top federal law-enforcement official until she left for private practice in 2014.
City leaders reached out to her regarding ways to address the department’s challenges.
She suggested hiring an outside agency to review the department.
The result was an “unprecedented” report, the result of interviews with more than 200 current and former employees, alleging cronyism, corruption and other problems within Fort Myers police.
The report has spawned a number of changes since its release in February, including city leaders approving the addition of a deputy chief and a request by police chief Derrick Diggs for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate alleged officer misconduct.
Diggs’ request, which was the report’s top recommendation, represents a change from previous department practice, Waid said.
“When you’re offered help and all the resources behind the federal government to solve a problem, and you had a lot of agencies saying we don’t need you and we don’t want you to come in, and why is that,” she asked. “I cant say why. I can assume there were certain issues they didn’t want people to know about. Maybe they just thought they had it under control. But it was very frustrating because you had these resources you were willing to give, and so my first recommendation to the mayor to his administration was you need to figure out whats going on there.”
Waid praised Diggs’ request, but added that since the alleged incidents happened in the past, they may be challenging to prove.
But doing nothing will worsen matters, she said.
“Baltimore, Ferguson, I mean, when you have a community that is this disjointed, Chicago, when you have a community that is this disjointed from their law enforcement without any oversight, you are creating just a firestorm of anger that is going to brew over at some point, there is going to be a breaking point,” she said. “That’s the exact opposite of what you want to have happen here and that’s why I truly commend chief Diggs for doing an independent audit.”
This story is the latest in WINK News’ continuing series about the FMPD audit.