Pinellas County religious leaders already feel like they have the ears of local law enforcement officials, said Pastor Carlton Childs, president of the Upper Pinellas County Ministerial Alliance. Now police, he said, must do more to improve those relationships with the broader community,
“They highly respect the ministerial alliance and the clergy and the pastors,” Childs said at a news conference on Monday. “It’s the community, it’s the young black men that they have lost the trust with for whatever reason it is.”
After an hour and a half meeting on Monday with Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, local ministers said they received a pledge of more transparency and scrutiny on policies and practices. Their ask comes in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, which has elevated the nationwide scrutiny on racism in America and policy brutality.
“We got their word that we’re going to work with them and they are going to work with us and we are going to put into action, and not just talk, some things that are going to bring back positive change in our community,” Childs said.
Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri both described policy changes they are reviewing. But the law enforcement heads urged that ethical agency cultures already set them apart from misconduct seen in other parts of the country.
“Having policies in place is only 50 percent of the equation," Gualtieri said. “A more important part of the equation is agency culture and that is people who actually do the right thing and insisting the right thing is being done. Remember a lot of the things that are being called for, and some people are calling for citizen review boards, they’re calling for body cameras, guess what, all of those things were already in place in Minneapolis.”
Gualtieri and Slaughter both said their agencies will soon add policy to require officers intervene in the moment when they see misconduct. Both agencies already required employees to report misconduct in general.
Slaughter said the meeting served to share information about his department’s selection process, training programs and accountability structures already in place. In addition to requiring officers intervene when they see misconduct, Slaughter said he is updating the existing policy banning neck restraints to prohibit all types of blocking of airways of people in custody.
In condemning the actions of the Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd’s death, Slaughter said he is recommitted to communicating more with the public about how the department operates and improvements that have already been made.
“We cant just forget about this and move on, this discussion has to continue,” Slaughter said.
Both agency leaders said they have intervention programs in place to address issues with officers. Slaughter said his mental health program has also been key to providing assistance to officers who may be struggling in the field.
But he said he is willing to communicate more as the community asks more questions about law enforcement practices.
“We definitely need to be very robust,” Slaughter said. “I think not just looking it after a bad incident. That needs to be something the chief is looking at all the time.”