Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday October 17th 2018

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The Buzz 7/2/15

Talking Race Relations With the painful memory of the recent mass murder at a church in Charleston, South Carolina fresh in everyone’s mind, Pensacola’s new police chief, David Alexander, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan and Rev. LuTimothy May spoke about the relationship between law enforcement and the African-American community at the Panhandle TigerBay Club’s June meeting.

“I would say it’s a strained and fatigued relationship,” Alexander said. “When people become strained they become desperate, and when you become desperate you’re going to have people overreact.”

May said he can’t assume that the relationship is better off now than ever before.

“I want to believe that. I want to hope for that, but I just believe it’s been disguised for so long,” he said.

While Morgan said there isn’t a current or specific issue between law enforcement and the African-American community in Escambia County, the dialog and outreach should never stop.

“It will take, unfortunately, many, many years to correct it,” he said.

Breaking down barriers, increasing accountability and responsibility, seeking the truth, and stopping the blame game were among the topics discussed as answers to questions submitted by attendees.

Alexander said the strained relationship is consistent across the country, but that Pensacola has been blessed it hasn’t experienced some of the situations other areas have.

“That doesn’t mean we should remain complacent, it means we should be proactive,” he said.

For Alexander, action comes in the form of accountability and community policing. He said accountability should be 360 degrees, where there is personal, public and systemic accountability.

“One of the things about law enforcement is you have to deal with a lot of the failures in other systems, and when those systems fail, relationships become strained and there’s always a blame game,” he said. “It doesn’t become the cause of the crime, but it becomes a mitigating factor.”

Alexander pointed to the Belmont-DeVilliers neighborhood, which he said was once labeled a high-crime spot, as an example of what a police and community partnership can accomplish. In 2001, he was assigned to implement community policing strategies in the neighborhood. What started out negative ended up being a relationship-building process because the residents got some things off their chest, the Pensacola Police Department addressed the problems and the community was very supportive of them.

“When we got through building that relationship with the community and enforcing those quality of life issues that were in the neighborhood, Belmont-DeVilliers regained its value as a thriving African-American area of town,” he said. “Every time I pass by Belmont-DeVilliers, no matter what time of night it is or what time of day, I see sustained accomplishment that came from a police-community partnership.”

Simply put, “You need to understand what the problem is in your neighborhood and get actively involved in solving that problem,” Alexander said.

Similarly, Morgan pointed out that there are more than 130 neighborhood watches now, but there were only 13 when he took office.

When asked what law enforcement needs to do to improve the relationship, Morgan said, “Continue to find the right dialog, the right people to carry the message and also continue to invest in those programs that are going to pay dividends (such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and PACE Center for Girls).”

A barrier that Morgan said must be overcome is with young people, due to their ever-changing dialog. He said that ensuring barriers never get constructed in the first place is one of his prime jobs.

“Immediately, if you’re over a certain age you have no connection with them,” he said. “Our techniques and programs…are ever changing and responsive to the needs.”

May said it’s easy to play the blame game, but it’s time for everyone to take responsibility.

“We’ve got to stop pointing fingers at everyone else and start saying, ‘What is my role, how am I a part of the problem and how can I change that so that I can be a part of the solution?’”

The pastor cautioned against making assumptions about people. He even shared a story of when cops pulled guns on him while he was looking at property in a low-income neighborhood so that his father could purchase and rebuild it.

“The assumption that every young male in a particular area is there to do something wrong, that’s an assumption and a bias that needs to be eradicated,” he said. “Everyone is biased in some type of way, but when you allow your bias to bleed over into injustice, that’s when we get into trouble.”

All three leaders emphasized that individuals need to look in the mirror and make commitments to action.

Alexander said. “Hopefully, in our dialog with others, we can convince them that this is a time when we have to make personal commitments to making this community the type of place that’s good for us who live here and that’s good for people who will move here and that will visit here.”

County Reorganizes At the end of June, Escambia County Administrator Jack Brown unveiled his reorganization plan for county staff.

Retiring Pensacola Police Chief Chip Simmons will be Brown’s assistant county administrator and will assume the job on August 1. Simmons will oversee community public safety relations and coordination, firefighters both paid and volunteers, jail construction and public safety coordination and employee relations. Corrections Director Michael Tidwell, Public Safety Director Mike Weaver, Facilities Management Director David Wheeler and Building Services Director Don Mayo and their departments will report to Simmons.

Assistant County Administrator Amy Lovoy, whom Brown appointed earlier this year, oversees the Pensacola Bay Center, the county budget, contract management, property sales, purchasing and risk management. Her direct reports are Library Services Director Todd Humble, Information and Technology Director Shawn Fletcher, Waste Services Director Pat Johnson and Natural Resources Management Director Keith Wilkins.

Marilyn Wesley, director of Community Affairs, and David Musselwhite, information and technology director, will no longer work for the county.

The Public Information office will be reorganized due to the recent departures of Kathleen Dough-Castro, the county’s Public Information Manager, and Public Information Officer Bill Pearson. Both left the county for other jobs in the area, not as a result of the reorganization.

Scott Cuts Local Projects From Budget
Governor Rick Scott released on June 23 his line-item vetoes, totaling over $461 million.

He axed several earmarks for Northwest Florida, including $688,713 for City of Milton’s Riverwalk $688,713, $1 million for the National Flight Academy, $3 million for Pensacola International Airport, $50,000 for Re-Entry Alliance of Pensacola, $1.5 million for Whiting Aviation Industrial Park,  $1 million for Muskogee Road freight corridor in Escambia County and $1 million for Project FOIL, an economic development project of the Pensacola-Escambia Economic Development Commission.