Law enforcement aims to build trust with African American communities

The battle to build relations between law enforcement and the African American community stems from a lack of trust. One former officer said he has felt this divide since the beginning of his career.

Dr. David Thomas, who is a retired police officer from the Gainesville Police Department and now an FGCU professor, said the lack of trust in law enforcement is ingrained in many members of the African American community.

“Even through my 20-year career, I was still considered a traitor by my community,” said Thomas, who has a Ph.D. in forensic psychology.

Local police departments look to bridge the gap and earn trust. Lee County Sheriff’s Office played basketball with kids in Dunbar last week. Thomas said it’s a start.

It seems this lack of trust is causing delays in justice in the Club Blu shooting. Two dead, 16 injured, and nearly 3 years later there are still no arrests.

The Club Blu shooting is a stain on the Fort Myers Police Department. But there is plenty of blame and blood to go around.

Soon after the shooting then-Gov. Rick Scott implored anyone with information on the killings to come forward.

“We all have to support them,” Scott said at the time. “If we see something, we have to call and tell them.”

But witnesses continue to refuse to tell detectives what they know, and that’s a recurring problem in Southwest Florida.

“I can bring up my dad when I made a decision to become a police officer,” Thomas said. “He just thought that was the wrong decision. That I have basically become a traitor.”

Thomas believes the “see but don’t say” mentality also comes out of fear. Many African Americans here point to studies like the Freeh report, published by Freeh Group International Solutions in February 201, that alleged misconduct and corruption at FMPD.

“I feel like there is a lack of accountability for the police officers,” FGCU student Gregory Dasiova said.

Fellow students on campus agree.

“And the way that they interact with us, we just steer clear at this point in time,” FGCU student Guy Boston said.

Anyone with information on the Club Blu shooting can call Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS and remain anonymous if they choose.

“We have to rebuild the agency,” Thomas said. “And the culture has to change. It doesn’t mean they have to stop being police, but they have to be more in tune with the community.

Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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