Sheriff’s Office creates campaign in response to national outrage over death of George Floyd

How We Serve documents agency policies and practices

Image from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office’s How We Serve webpage

On June 16, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office announced its latest campaign “in response to the national conversation about police reform,” as the department put it in a news release.

“Following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis Police officers on May 25,” the release said, “the nation has seen protests, riots, and several calls to action for law enforcement agencies coming from formal and informal reform groups. On the suncoast,” the release continued, “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, the release noted, 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.

“Over the past several days as Americans have digested the events of Minneapolis and Louisville, we have been hard at work looking at our policies,” said Knight’s chief deputy and general counsel, Col. Kurt A. Hoffman, in the June 16 release. “We pride ourselves on being in tune with what our community wants and expects out of the county’s largest law enforcement agency and more often than not, we are right on par.”

However, Hoffman continued, Floyd’s death “sparked a new level of national outrage that calls on all police agencies to respond and that’s why we are launching this campaign [emphasis in the release].”

In How We Serve: Defining the Culture of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, the agency highlights 12 different discussion points, the release noted. Those are Use of Force, Rightful Policing, Training, Diversity, Transparent Communication, Body-Worn Cameras, Comprehensive Reporting, Addressing Social Injustices, Shooting at Moving Vehicles, 21st Century Policing, Supervisor Accountability, and Stronger Together. The last one is a statement regarding the office’s commitment to community engagement.

The campaign includes an infographic and webpage dedicated to sharing agency demographics, statistics on excessive force, reasons behind policy decisions, and other information.

This is one page of the How We Serve infographic. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office
This is the second page of the How We Serve infographic. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Hoffman added in the news release that culture is the only thing “that can truly reform police agencies stuck in the wrong decade.”

“Leadership starts at the top and that is why we set expectations early on about the culture of the sheriff’s office,” Hoffman continued in the release. “Rightful policing is not just what we do; it is who we are [emphasis in the release]. My message to law enforcement executives who employ a workforce that does not buy into a 2020 policing philosophy is to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. There is no longer room in this profession for officers who refuse to honor the oath they took when they pinned on their badge and agreed to serve ALL the citizens of their community,” Hoffman pointed out in the release.

Details of webpage offerings

Below each heading on the How We Serve webpage, the Sheriff’s Office provides details about its approach to the specific issue.

For example, in regard to training, the webpage says, “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* [emphasis again on the webpage].”

Image from the How We Serve webpage, courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

As for Use of Force, the webpage points out, “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.”

The section on Comprehensive Reporting explains that since the early 1990s, the Sheriff’s Office has required its members to complete a Level of Resistance (LOR) report each time an officer uses force or threatens to use force against a member of the public.

“The LOR report is lengthy but important to ensure transparency and accurate data keeping,” the section continues. “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 [emphasis on the webpage].”

In regard to Rightful Policing Culture, the webpage explains that the Sheriff’s Office has practiced community policing since the 1980s, and that it continues to “adapt to new methods of policing every day.”

In 2016, following the publication of an article by Tracey L. Meares of the Harvard Kennedy School and National Institute of Justice, that section says, 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 section adds.

During a presentation to the Sarasota County Commission in June 2019, Sheriff Tom Knight and his staff included this slide featuring details about the diversity of department staff. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

As for diversity on the force, the webpage notes that 2019 U.S. Census data showed the racial breakdown in Sarasota County was 83% white; 4.8% Black or African American; and 9.3% Hispanic or Latino.

The comparable statistics for the Sheriff’s Office, the webpage says, are 86% white; 5% Black or African American; and 7% Hispanic or Latino.

The webpage also includes information about Campaign Zero’s #8CantWait initiative, which, it notes, was created in 2016 “but is getting more traction now than ever.”

This graphic shows the seven recommendations of CampaignZero’s #8CantWait initiative with which the office complies. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

To learn more about the How We Serve campaign, visit SarasotaSheriff.org or the agency’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube accounts, using the hashtag #SCSOHowWeServe, the release added.

In coming weeks, members of the public also will be able to visit the agency’s Sarasota headquarters, which is located at 6010 Cattleridge Blvd., to pick up a printed copy of the campaign infographic, the release pointed out.

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