Workshop tackles progress between FMPD, community it serves

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Fort Myers Police Department headquarters. (Credit: WINK News)
Fort Myers Police Department Headquarters. Credit: WINK News.

Accountability and communication are key in regaining the community’s trust, and the Fort Myers Police Department on Monday learned about the progress it has made in repairing the damaged relationship caused by years of corruption.

Chantel Rhodes, an organizer for Peaceful Protests of Lee County, said marches in the wake of George Floyd’s death helped to open the lines of communication with Fort Myers police – and she wants it to stay that way.

“Is crime going down because more arrests are happening or there’s more police presence, or are crimes falling because of the fact that police are getting out there, looking at the root of the issue and they’re working with other organizations and trying to find out what it is that’s working?” Rhodes asked.

Fort Myers City Council heard from the two groups it pays to study and monitor FMPD: the Freeh Group and the University of Cincinnati.

“The first step towards meaningful reform is to ask the question ‘do we have a problem?’ And as my colleague and the chief said, the city asked that question in 2016,” said Tom Larned with the Freeh Group.

According to the University of Cincinnati, the population of Fort Myers grew by 13,000 from 2015 to 2019. During that same time, crime fell roughly 13% and arrests also dropped 11%.

FMPD Chief Derrick Diggs believes that’s partly due to the department’s shift in philosophy.

“FMPD since my arrival will continue to be, during my tenure, the most progressive, technological driven, community-responsive police department,” he said.

And partly due to ongoing conversations with the community.

“We want to live in a safe community. So we basically want to hone in on what is working; we want to work with law enforcement,” Rhodes said.

During Monday’s workshop, the city council said it hopes to send out a citizen survey to get feedback on how the department is doing in neighborhoods.

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