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Lee County NAACP discusses public safety with local law enforcement leaders

It’s been over two weeks since the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody sparked a movement for change.

The latest calls for reform among demonstrators nationwide and in Southwest Florida includes defunding law enforcement agencies.

Lee County NAACP met with leaders of local law enforcement agencies Thursday to talk about what is being done locally to ensure public safety.

James Muwakkil, the Lee County NAACP president, made it clear the day’s meeting was just the beginning. He wants Fort Myers Police Department, Lee County Sheriff’s Office and every other local law enforcement agency in the county to get specific as to how they’ll address two priorities — a lack of diversity and how to make sure police officers and sheriff’s deputies hold each other accountable.

“You have to really go to community policing, and that’s in the holistic sense,” Muwakkil said.

Muwakkil said what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis must never happen here in Southwest Florida. So he brought law enforcement leaders from Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Sanibel police departments, LCSO and the state attorney’s office together to talk about how to make that happen.

“Talk about your excessive force policy,” Muwakkil asked of all the local leaders.

“Officers wear body cameras,” said Police Chief David Newlan of Cape Coral Police Department. “And, in the last decade, the use of force has gone down on a gradual decrease.”

“Every use of force, every single one gets reviewed by a sergeant straight through the ranks to my internal affairs department, to my legal department and finally on my desk,” Sheriff Carmine Marceno said. “So, if someone is using excessive force regularly, it flags them. It lets us know and then we specifically look at that individual.”

FMPD released a flyer, making it clear what the department does to ensure public safety — such as, no choke holds. Additionally, any officer witnessing a fellow cop using excessive force must intervene.

“And we will definitely continue to revisit our policies, especially ones that are considered high liability use of force policies,” said Deputy Chief Jeff Myers of FMPD.

The police chiefs, sheriff and state attorney agreed now is the time for them to listen, to hear what the people they serve want and need for them to change.

Moving forward, Muwakkil says he hopes to have individual meetings with each agency to talk more about diversity, not only among the ranks but in command.

Reporter:Dannielle Garcia
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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