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7/24/2008

Happytown > Happytown

HAPPYTOWN
Chief Demings: Nobody's perfect

 

Two weeks ago, this news paper published a report on the Orlando Police Department’s weak-kneed approach to disciplining its own (“Might makes right,” July 10). We got plenty of responses, but didn’t hear a peep from Orlando Police Chief Val Demings.

Instead, Demings pressed her case to the Orlando Sentinel, which published a July 13 My Word column in which she said, in a nutshell, that nobody’s perfect: OPD has had some 2 million contacts with Orlando citizens in the last five years, so why worry about 98 claims of excessive force and an Internal Affairs division that seems all too happy to stick its head in the sand?

In the interest of fair play, writer Jeffrey C. Billman penned a My Word of his own, explaining the allegations Demings was denying. You’d think since the Sentinel offered up space for Demings to talk about our story uncritically, the paper would also jump at the chance to publish our rebuttal.

Guess not. In the week since, the Sentinel has run My Words on how the word “awesome” is overused and how evangelicals don’t all think alike, but not our column answering one of Orlando’s most powerful public officials. Wouldn’t want to wade into that territory, would we?

Since the Sentinel won’t run Billman’s My Word column, we will:

I’d like to thank Orlando Police Chief Val Demings for responding to “Might makes right.” Much of what she says I happen to agree with: Officers are human and make mistakes. Moreover, I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Orlando cops are good people trying to better their community, and they should be applauded as such.

That said, in her op-ed, Demings suggests that we should not “focus on our imperfections.” Those imperfections, Demings suggests, are just the price we pay for the protection OPD provides.

Chief Demings, that is not acceptable. Your officers are paid employees of this city, and they answer to us, the taxpayers. If they violate the rules, they should be punished. I believe that my reporting shows pretty clearly that doesn’t always happen at OPD.

Here are the facts, and they are undisputed: In the past five years, citizens have filed 98 complaints against Orlando officers for excessive use of force. In every instance, Internal Affairs cleared the cops. Now, maybe that’s what should have happened every time; maybe the bad guys were lying and the cops were telling the truth every time. That strikes me as unlikely, however, because as my reporting demonstrated, some Orlando cops fudge the truth in police reports.

In her op-ed, Demings dismisses tapes showing just that by saying they don’t tell the whole story; still, when those videotapes directly contradict what’s written in a police report, whom are we to believe?

It’s true that over this five-year span OPD has had 2 million encounters with the public, and there have only been 98 claims of excessive force. I would like to point out that these 98 are just the excessive force complaints. There are hundreds of other complaints, across the board, every year. Because OPD purges most of its Internal Affairs complaints after one year, investigating those is a bit tricky.

It’s also worth noting that with a 98-0 scorecard, one could be forgiven for not thinking it worth the time and energy to file an excessive use of force complaint with Internal Affairs – as several of those who have pending lawsuits against the city have chosen to do.

I do not wish merely to cast aspersions on Orlando cops, or to focus on negativity for negativity’s sake. Rather, the evidence gathered in my report calls for a new look at how OPD polices itself. It makes a case for a civilian regulatory body that has the ability to actually investigate charges leveled at police officers, including the ability to question police officers. It also strongly suggests that OPD is far too willing to turn a blind eye when one of its own crosses a line, and that’s something no community should tolerate.

The good officers far outnumber the rest. But OPD’s credibility relies on how it treats its bad apples. If misconduct is whitewashed or otherwise excused, what confidence should we have in those who sign up to serve and protect us?


Unnecessary perk alert! While we’re still recovering from Samantha Brown’s lobotomized Travel Channel excursion into the “other side” of Orlando – shopping, glassblowing, soul food, drinking, Winter Park – it was announced last week that the annoying twig is coming back to the City Beautiful in September as a celebrity guest at the Tradeshow, the annual travel agents convention.

“Her inquisitive nature appeals to consumers who are curious about the world and eager to engage with others to gather new life experiences,” Pat Younge, Travel Channel’s president and general manager, said in the press release, wind rushing between his ears. “She truly embodies the Travel Channel brand.”

If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll be the one to stick that salami in her mouth when she passes out this time. She’s classy like that.


Extreme baseball is finally here! No, really! The National Xtreme Baseball League plays its first game in Sanford on Aug. 9. We, for one, can hardly wait.

Though the league, which offered 10 exhibition games last year to bolster excitement, claimed it would have 20 or 30 teams when the season kicked off, there’s actually only four. That includes our own fearsome-sounding team, the Orlando Dragons.

Not sure what extreme baseball is? No worries; we read up on it and still aren’t too sure either. Basically there are two teams on the field at all times and one team runs around the bases the wrong way. Drink a lot of beer at the game – you won’t care anyway.


Want to really support the troops? Then send them some comics. They’d rather get Hustler, but the military has rules.

A Comic Shop, 114 S. Semoran Blvd, is holding a drive July 26 to get the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan some good reading materials. Operation Sequential Art is also trying to break the record for most comics donated in a single day, a record we are proud to say we did not even know existed.

Batman writer Chuck Dixon will be there, but we’ll be there for the models dressed as Batman characters, hoping against hope that someone will show in a skintight Catwoman outfit. Meow.

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