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Diggs unanimously confirmed as Fort Myers’ next police chief

FORT MYERS, Fla. – City council members unanimously confirmed Derrick Diggs as Fort Myers’ next police chief Thursday afternoon, officially ending a six month process by selecting Saeed Kazemi’s first major hire since becoming city manager in February.

Described as “historic” by Mayor Randy Henderson, Diggs will become the city’s first police chief from outside the department in 21 years and the department’s first African-American leader in more than a decade.

Diggs, following his confirmation, stressed the importance of officers working with children.

“As firm and as focused on violent crime that I am, I’m just as firm, I’m just as focused, and I’ll work just a hard to make sure our kids have other opportunities outside the criminal justice system,” he said. “The quickest way to reduce crime in a community is not throwing people in jail, but making sure people have a chance, get a job.”

Diggs spoke briefly with media after being greeted by community members:

But not every council member was happy with Kazemi’s selection.

“Being the person I am, I can accept change, and I can think about giving Mr. Diggs a chance,” said councilwoman Terolyn Watson, who wanted finalist Anthony Williams, formerly the police chief of the Broward County School District. “I won’t go against him. I don’t think it would be something good for me or something good for the community.”

The remaining council members, including Teresa Watkins Brown, emphatically supported Diggs.

“The city manager has done his job in bringing up the best he can bring to support us,” she said. “But it’s going to still be up to us as a community to surround ourselves and support him in the efforts that’s going on in this community. He can’t do it all by himself.”

The confirmation, generally a celebratory event, turned slightly confrontational when resident Anthony Thomas called out Henderson and council member Johnny Streets Jr. for not being involved during various stages of the selection process.

“Give this brother some time to develop,” Thomas said of Diggs. “Give him a good three-year contract, but also let him develop his own team.”

Streets was quick to respond.

“I don’t need to give any explanation about what I do,” he said. “First of all, this man don’t live in my ward, so don’t come at me with false pretenses. Let’s not grandstand. With me, play period is over.”

Henderson also had a few words.

“It has been a great process and I’ve been privileged to review a massive amount of documentation and one-on-one interviews,” he said.

Diggs beat out seven other finalists for the position, including former Interim Chief Dennis Eads, who was praised by city council members and received a standing applause from the more than 50 residents and police officers inside city council chambers.

Kazemi said his selection addresses three things he wanted in the next chief:

  • Involving the community with the department.
  • Offering fresh perspectives and having experience with dealing with people “from all walks of life and different backgrounds.”
  • “Challenge both myself and everyone around him to do the hard things that need to be done.”

Formerly the police chief in Toledo, Ohio, Diggs was a strong supporter of utilizing technology to fight crime, including placing 150 cameras in high-crime areas. Some credited the effort with reducing crime while others deemed it an invasion of privacy.

Diggs also implemented ORION (Observation Research Intelligence Operations Network), a data-driven policing project. The effort helped deter and solve crimes while improving officer response times, Diggs said in a 2013 article. He also credited the effort with a drop in burglaries and an increase in solved homicides.

After 37 years with Toledo police, becoming chief in 2011, Diggs stepped down in January 2014 due to “irreconcilable differences in policing philosophy” with the incoming mayor, according to news reports.

Diggs replaces Doug Baker, who was fired in August 2015 amid controversy surrounding the wrongful arrest of NFL player Nate Allen.

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