FMPD Chief Diggs talks exclusively about state of policing in SWFL, nationally

Reporter: Rich Kolko Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
FILE Photo of FMPD Chief Derrick Diggs in July 2020. Credit: WINK News.

Amid the protests of police brutality toward Black people in the U.S. and calls to defund police, the chief of police at Fort Myers Police Department decided to speak to WINK News exclusively. It’s the first extensive interview Chief Derrick Diggs has given to local news in Southwest Florida.

Diggs spoke directly to our Safety & Security Specialist, Rich Kolko, recently to talk about issues surrounding law enforcement locally and beyond.

Diggs has been in charge of FMPD four years, and he’s been in law enforcement 42 years. He’s seen a lot of bad in his career and dealt with racism directly.

During our conversation with Diggs, he preferred to talk about the good the police do and why what’s happened to Black people in Minneapolis, Atlanta and throughout the United States in 2020 will not change his department.

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, George Floyd died in police custody. “It traumatizes people,” Diggs told WINK News. “It gets people upset.”

In Atlanta, Georgia, Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by police. “We don’t train our people that way,” Diggs said. “We don’t operate that way.”

In Brunswick, Georgia, Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed by white suspects. In Louisville Kentucky, Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police.

Diggs told us he feels the pain of each loss.

“It affects all of us,” Diggs said. “And, because of the media spin, because of political spin, it paints a broad brush on everyone here protecting and serving.”

A Black man, Diggs treasures his uniform. He knows both sides of policing. What he fears gets lost — in the protests, the riots — is the good.

“They don’t think about the 99.9% of police officers out there that do the good jobs, that sacrifice, that almost give their lives on a daily basis to protect and serve their communities,” Diggs said. “They don’t get a chance to see that.”

And what protesters and politicians, who are quick to respond to protesters, now want, Diggs says is not workable.

“People that sit there and say let’s defund the police, they want a quick answer,” Diggs said. “It’s not that simple. Same thing with qualified immunity. Well let’s get rid of qualified immunity. Not that simple.”

Diggs says FMPD can’t afford further constraints.

“We’re already defunding,” Digg said. “I’m already 40 to 60 officers below where I need to be to protect this community.”

Diggs is adamant what happened in other cities will not happen on his watch.

“We’ve been reforming this police department since the day I got here,” Digg said. “We do police in a professional manner. We do treat people with courtesy and respect at all our encounters.”

For Diggs, policing is personal. It was his dream since he was a little boy growing up in Ohio.

“I can tell you the exact day. It was fourth or fifth grade,” He said. “And I’ve never seen a Black police officer before … And he gave a little presentation, and, back in those days, he was in formal dress. He talked about policing and what he did and everything else … When I went home that day, I walked into my back door and said, ‘I want to be a police officer.’”

Diggs says he is the man and the officer he hoped to be today.

“And I’m the lawman that I always want to be, and I’m going to continue being a lawman that I want to be,” Diggs said.

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