'When We Are Demonized, We Both Lose:' South Florida Leaders Discuss Police And Community Relations

Jul 18, 2016

Around the same time of the shootings of police officers in Baton Rouge, South Florida politicians and law enforcement officials came together at Broward College to discuss the relationship between the police and the communities that they serve.


“When we’re demonized and we’re not looked at as human or when we demonize the population of people that we serve, I think we both lose,” said Laurenia Fahie, an African-American officer in the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.

She said she sees both sides of the issue and that she took copius notes at the meeting Sunday to bring back to her colleagues.

Fahie and other law enforcement officers and officials, along with students and officials of the Urban League of Broward County were present during Sunday’s meeting. Featured speakers, including Florida U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, discussed ways to improve police-community relations.

The conference was part of an ongoing task force initiative, started in 2014 by Schultz and Florida U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings. That task force includes several subcommittees focused on building ties through communications, education and police training.  

Mike Ryan, mayor of Sunrise, started it off by addressing the recent shootings in Louisiana. “Obviously our hearts are heavy today, and it is as important as ever to have honest discussions,” Ryan said.

James DePelisi, director and chief executive officer of the Broward Crime Commission, helps with the training. He organizes the "Building Bridges Mental Health Conference Series” and collects data in part of the initiative. 

“I think if the officers start working on a little bit on verbal de-escalation, conflict resolution critical thinking, logic and reason; and the kids also focus on that as well then you’re going to bridge a gap a little bit where the tensions aren’t going to be so hasty," DePelisi said.

Bishop Henry Fernandez, of the Faith Center in Sunrise, was a speaker on the panel. He says he wants to see more accountability within law enforcement and city government.

"They must make themselves vulnerable to the truth of what's happening in the community," Fernandez said. “They must be able to admit that there is a problem, with how law enforcement is treating the citizens that they have sworn to protect.”

The featured speaker of the meeting Sunday was former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. He stressed the notion of what he calls the three T’s: Trust, Training and Transparency.

“There’s a responsibility on both sides,” said Nutter. “The community must set a standard, and police must maintain it.”

One of the other speakers included Cindy Arenberg Seltzer, the CEO of Children’s Services Council of Broward County.

She focuses on youth development programs.

“We’ve been working to bring the high school students together with police and to have both understand each other and their cultures.”

She says the council partnered with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department and Human Services Department of Broward County, to start a program titled “Undoing Racism” to look at the root causes of negative encounters among police and the youth.

“We want to sort of get at what are some of the policies and institutions that are creating an environment that make it harder for our young people, especially those of color, to thrive and survive,” Arenberg Seltzer said.