Southwest Florida leaders, activists react to Trump’s police reform plan

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The push for police reform is working. Protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death are prompting change, and the Fort Myers Police Department reacted positively to the president’s executive order.

President Donald Trump believes he is taking the right steps to standardize policing, steps that many law enforcement agencies locally have already adopted.

FMPD Deputy Chief Jeffrey Meyers reviewed the executive order after it came out Tuesday.

“From what I’ve read so far, it appears to be very positive. From what I understand, there is some funding in there for departments that use best practices, which we already do,” Meyers said.

Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said about the executive order that it’s good whenever you have the federal government on board and supportive.

“We think it’s important it gets national attention, but there’s 18,000 police departments, so getting consensus for all those agencies will be important, but putting the federal government behind this is a good thing,” he said.

Meyers and Wexler agree that chokeholds are not necessary unless it’s a life or death situation, and police are always looking for improvements in less-than-lethal weapons systems.

“You try de-escalation techniques through verbal cues; if that doesn’t work and you need to move to a less-lethal device, the more options you have out there at an officer’s disposal is an improvement.”

Will it help policing in Southwest Florida?

“American policing right now has an issue of trust and the challenge right now is rebuilding that trust,” Wexler said.

Meyers said he believes the president’s executive order will benefit his department and the policing community across the area.

Chantel Rhodes, the woman behind recent peaceful protests in Fort Myers, thinks the executive order is a step in the right direction.

“I would consider it a step forward, absolutely,” she said. “Because like I said, him acknowledging the police brutality that has taken place, that is something that we have not seen very much from even some of our local law enforcement and government officials. So that acknowledgment was very important because that sets the tone for how we move forward.”

The order will establish a national database of police officers with a history of using excessive force.

“I’m glad that they are at least considering reform,” said James Muwakkil, president of the Lee County NAACP.

“We don’t want the nice speeches you hear for press releases, we want nuts and bolts, we want the steps, we want to know that you were taking the segment of America serious.”

“We have reached out to the Fort Myers Police Department, they have not yet agreed to sit down and come to the table with local leaders. But they have released statements, but again we want those genuine off-the-record conversations that we are hoping that will lead to real change in our community,” Rhodes said.

That change, Muwakkil believes, starts at the local level. The organization hopes to have individual meetings with Fort Myers police and other agencies to talk more about diversity not only among the ranks but in command.

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