Defining the Culture of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office
June 16, 2020
Following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis Police officers on May 25, 2020, the nation has seen protests, riots, and several calls to action for law enforcement agencies coming from formal and informal reform groups. Here on the suncoast, Sarasota County and its municipalities have been home to nearly a dozen peaceful protests which have yet to end in any arrests, major property damage or destruction. On May 29, Sheriff Tom Knight issued a statement condemning the actions of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin who was indicted on charges of second-degree manslaughter and second-degree murder. On June 8, Knight also wrote an op-ed titled “The Path Forward Starts with Leadership and Culture,” published in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
While Americans have digested the events of both Minneapolis and Louisville, we have been monitoring the national conversation regarding police reform and taking a hard look at our policies and procedures. While we are far from "perfect," we pride ourselves on being in tune with what our community wants and expects out of us and more often than not, we are right on par. George Floyd’s death however, sparked a new level of national outrage that calls on all police agencies to respond and that is why we created this webpage and this campaign.
If you have been on social media lately or watching the news, you may have come across Campaign Zero's #8CantWait campaign, which was created in 2016, but is getting more traction now than ever. According to the organization, their review "examines the use of force policies of 91 of America’s 100 largest cities’ police departments to identify the policies that establish restrictions on how and when police use force against civilians. Working with legal experts, advocates, and academics with an expertise in this area, eight major policies are identified that establish meaningful restrictions on police use of force – especially deadly force - against civilians."
The below image is from Campaign Zero's report and shows the eight policies their organization is demanding law enforcement agencies across the country implement ASAP. The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office currently complies with seven out of eight policies.
In addition to these eight demands, we are also hearing discussion about the need for increased transparency when it comes to public access to personnel files, disciplinary records, and more. We are hearing discussions on the idea of "defunding the police" and reallocating funds for the purpose of addressing societal injustices. Finally, we are hearing reform groups demand the implementation of body-worn camera programs, an initiative we believe has no bearing on officer and civilian safety if the agency's culture is outdated and out of touch.
How We Serve: Defining the Culture of the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office will show you how our agency is responding to the national conversation and while this is an ongoing project, we wanted to be timely in our response to the community and nation. How We Serve: Defining the Culture of the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office is a campaign we created for you, the citizens of Sarasota County, to see just how we serve our community and how our CULTURE shapes our identity as a law enforcement agency. Be sure to read through all 12 concepts and visit the links we provide. You will find that we believe in research, data, and making policy decisions that best reflect the community we serve.
The following information is current as of June 16, 2020 however, is subject to change.
We believe to best serve our community in a way that citizens expect and deserve, we must engage in modern-day policing which means serving as guardians of our community rather than an occupying force. We know our citizens want to be involved with their local law enforcement which is why we partner with dozens of local community-based groups and stakeholders to foster dialogue and increase transparency. Fighting crime is and always will be community-based. We cannot do what we do without support from the community.
We invest heavily in training our deputies with a focus on crisis intervention, implicit bias, discriminatory profiling and professional traffic stops. We also teach human diversity including sexual harassment, discrimination and ethics, communication with the LGBTQ community, and de-escalation techniques. Our coursework follows requirements set forth by the Criminal Justice Standards & Training Commission and Florida Statutes. Every deputy receives more than 40 hours of classroom training annually in addition to regular computer-based training. *The state of Florida mandates 40 hours of training every four years which means our deputies are receiving 120 more hours per cycle than state law requires.*
It is our policy to maintain procedures for deputies to follow when confronted with situations in which force is reasonably necessary. Otherwise and when feasible, every attempt is made to achieve compliance through advice, warnings, and persuasion. The use of the lateral vascular neck restraint (LVNR) as a non-deadly use of force was taken out of our policy in 2004 and is not something you should see any law enforcement agency use in 2020, unless an officer is exercising deadly force.
Since the early 1990’s, we have required our members to complete a Level of Resistance (LOR) report each time they use force or threaten to use force against a citizen. The LOR report is lengthy but important to ensure transparency and accurate data keeping. It also helps us identify where additional training may be needed and assists our Internal Affairs Unit when allegations of excessive force are reported. Since 2009, our Internal Affairs Unit investigated 322 total reports of alleged policy violations within our law enforcement division. Of those 322 reports, 23 were allegations of excessive force and only 2 were sustained. Since 2009, our total internal affairs complaints have decreased 61% agencywide.
Body-worn camera (BWC) programs have been implemented over the past ten years within police agencies throughout the U.S., however many have proven costly and complex with existing evidence showing the impact on policing outcomes is relatively limited, with mixed results. In 2020, following the events in Minneapolis, Louisville, Buffalo, and Atlanta, each of the agencies were utilizing BWC which did not change the outcome of any of the incidents. As outlined in Sheriff Knight’s op-ed, we believe that while BWC programs may reduce complaints, they do not change the culture of a police agency stuck in the wrong decade.
We have spent a significant amount of time researching programs and looking at success rates of other agencies. In 2017, a randomized controlled trial of 2,224 Metropolitan Police Department officers in Washington, D.C. found the following conclusion on the impact of their BWC program:
Read the complete report here: Evaluating the Effects of Police Body-Worn Cameras: A Randomized Controlled Trial.
Another report released in 2018 by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) explains that little evidence exists to definitively demonstrate that the potential benefits of BWCs justify their significant costs.
Read the complete report here: Cost and Benefits Of Body-Worn Camera Deployments.
We have never been opposed to any tool that can be purchased in a fiscally responsible way and is proven to address issues we are trying to solve. However, until we can identify successful BWC programs that save the lives of deputies and citizens, we do not have plans to implement a program at the sheriff’s office, which will come at an estimated cost of $2.5 million dollars.
The sheriff’s office has practiced community policing since the 1980’s and we continue to evolve and adapt to new methods of policing every day. In 2016, following an article published by Dr. Tracey L. Meares from the Harvard Kennedy School and National Institute of Justice, the sheriff’s office formally adopted the philosophy of “Rightful Policing.” At its core, rightful policing tells us people care much more about how law enforcement agencies treat them than they do about the outcome of the contact. Rightful Policing creates a culture of lawfulness and police legitimacy which in turn provides a more trusting community and ethical workforce. Concepts in Rightful Policing are now integrated into our new employee orientations and promotional processes. We also offer a one-day comprehensive Rightful Policing Workshop for local kids in the community which includes the unique opportunity for youth to go through typical situations a deputy may face during a shift. Since 2016, more than 750 youth, pastoral and community leaders have participated in our workshops.
The sheriff’s office believes culture and leadership starts at the top of the agency which is why we hold our members accountable at every level of the organization. In 2011, we launched our Leadership Academy for new sworn and civilian supervisors, with coursework on ethical decision-making, community affairs, legal issues, mental health and PTSD, and supervisory techniques. Field Training Officers also complete their own training program before overseeing new recruits. As sworn supervisors progress through the ranks, they are exposed to command-level training through the Southern Police Institute and Florida Sheriffs Association. As a paramilitary organization, we believe when a line-level deputy violates policy, there may be reason to also hold their supervisor accountable for lack of oversight or direction. We hold every member accountable at every level, which includes the shared expectation that we have all have a duty to intervene if we witness malfeasance. Currently, any member who witnesses excessive force and does not intervene is subject to investigation and subsequent discipline. We know however, that we can do better which is why we have immediate plans to more clearly define the duty to intervene within our policies.
In May 2015, President Obama led a task force comprised of law enforcement executives, civic leaders, researchers, academics, and others who identified six main topic areas or “pillars” where law enforcement agencies in the 21st century should be channeling their focus. Pillars included Building Trust and Legitimacy, Technology and Social Media, Community Policing and Crime Reduction, Officer Training and Education, and Officer Safety and Wellness. Upon release of the task force’s report, we dissected our policies, procedures, personnel, and strategic plan, and hired an outside consultant to measure our performance and compliance. We put together our own Report on 21st Century Policing after learning we were 100% in compliance in three out of six pillars, and in the areas where we needed to improve, we incorporated recommendations straight from the report into our 2017-2021 strategic plan. Goals and objectives are measured and reported quarterly. The status of our goals and objectives as of April 2020 can be viewed by visiting this link.
We understand and believe in the value of open communication which is why we focus so heavily on technology and social media. In 2011, the sheriff’s office launched its Facebook page and has since adopted Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and a mobile app because we know our citizens receive news through different mediums, and we want you to get the right information straight from the source. We issue an annual report every year and a new strategic plan every four years. In 2019 alone, our Crime Prevention Unit presented at 497 speaking engagements and graduated 51 citizens through our Citizens Law Enforcement Academy. In accordance with Florida State Statute 119 and Florida Sunshine Laws, we promptly provide open public records to both citizens and news media daily.
We believe our workforce should be comprised of individuals who reflect the community we serve which is why we focus heavily on recruiting individuals from diverse backgrounds. To be hired as a deputy, you must either have 60 hours of college credit, three years of prior experience or a military commitment. Annually we offer both law enforcement and corrections scholarships, and regularly attend and host job fairs. To retain a diverse workforce, we have plans to create an internal work group who will help identify barriers to employment as well as opportunities for broader recruitment.
According to the estimated 2019 U.S. Census, here is the racial breakdown of Sarasota County:
White – 83%
Black or African American – 4.8%
Hispanic or Latino – 9.3%
Here is where we stand:
White – 86%
Black or African American – 5%
Hispanic or Latino – 7%
In June 2020, during an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter explained the organization’s call to action for the “defunding of police.” She explained the concept is not meant to eliminate police agencies but to increase funding and reinvest in resources that address quality of life issues including homelessness, drug addiction, domestic violence, and education. While law enforcement agencies were not historically created to solve societal issues, we address many of these injustices head-on through our full-time homeless outreach team, drug addiction recovery programs within our correctional facility, and becoming first in the state of Florida to equip deputies with the life-saving drug Naloxone. We also regularly utilize forfeiture funds and unclaimed cash to contribute to local non-profits and 501(c)(3)s who serve minority and underserved populations. Since 2015, we have reinvested more than $195,000 to underserved populations within Sarasota County.
Shooting at Moving Vehicles
Our policy states that deputies shall not discharge a firearm during a pursuit into a moving vehicle or discharge a firearm from a moving vehicle during a pursuit, unless the discharge is consistent with providing due care for the safety of the public. This means our deputies will only fire their weapon at a moving vehicle if the vehicle is being used as a method of deadly force to the deputy or the public. This policy is consistent with most sheriff’s offices nationwide because much like a hand-held weapon, a moving vehicle has the power to end someone’s life.
In October 2017, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) published a National Consensus Policy on Use of Force. The policy is the result of a collaboration between 11 agencies, including the IACP, Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), and several others. Within their publication, the group discusses Shots Discharged at Moving Vehicles:
Further, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 104 officers have been killed by vehicular assault in the United States since 2010.
In 2019, Detective Clifton John Martinez was intentionally struck and killed by a vehicle. He was working secondary employment when a fight broke out between several patrons. Detective Martinez was able to move the subjects out of the restaurant and into the parking lot when he was attacked by at least two people and knocked to the ground. While he was still on the ground the subjects entered a car and intentionally ran over him, pinning him under the vehicle.
In 2018, Police Officer David Paul Romrell was intentionally struck by a vehicle fleeing from a burglary in progress. He and other responding officers arrived at the scene as the suspects attempted to leave in a vehicle. The driver of the vehicle accelerated toward the officers and struck Officer Romrell. Other officers fired at the driver, killing him. Officer Romrell succumbed to his injuries while in emergency surgery.
In 2014, Police Officer Mark Hayden Larson succumbed to injuries sustained on January 25th, 1993, when he was intentionally dragged by a vehicle during a traffic stop. Officer Larson had been flagged down by a female who informed that a man had attempted to force her into the woods. She pointed out the vehicle, which Officer Larson then stopped. While speaking to the driver the man grabbed Officer Larson's arm as he accelerated from the scene. Officer Larson was able draw his weapon and shot the subject multiple times. The man then rammed Officer Larson into a guardrail, near the intersection of Edgewood Avenue & Avenue B, breaking both of his legs and nearly severing his arm before he was thrown into a ditch. Officer Larson was transported to a nearby hospital where his arm was amputated. He was forced to medically retire and his health continued to deteriorate. He succumbed to complications from the original injury on March 24th, 2014, and his death was subsequently ruled a homicide.
Based on our research coupled with the information presented above, we have no plans to change our existing policy.