While preparations are ongoing for the formation of a gun safety task for in and around the city of Pensacola, another issue – more police scrutiny – came up during Mayor Grover Robinson’s weekly news conference at City Hall on Monday.
“Our men and women in the Pensacola Police Department do an excellent job, and it’s a tough job they have to do; and I appreciate the work that they do every day protecting us,” said Robinson.
At issue is the Mayor’s suggestion last week of a civilian board to oversee the Pensacola Police Department. That was in response to the shooting last month of Tymar Crawford, who was killed by an officer after he disarmed another officer during an attempted arrest on drug charges. Robinson mentioned the proposal at a meeting last week with the group Pensacola Dream Defenders, which is protesting the shooting.
“What we’ve looked for were places where we could agree and what we could do to make that going forward,” the mayor said. “I appreciate them coming forward, [but] I can’t do everything that you’re asking; there are just not going to be things that we think are going to be productive for where we’re going. But I think that within the set of what they’re asking for there are ways to make things better.”
Robinson was asked whether the police department already has civilian oversight, in the forms of the mayor’s office and Pensacola City Council. He said that is the case, and that a civilian panel studying the PPD was in place about two decades ago – adding he’s not opposed to bringing that back.
“My whole point was to sit down with Dream Defenders and say, ‘where are things where we can find agreement?’ Ultimately, the citizens’ oversight is the city council and the mayor’s office. But at the same time, if we need to have a citizens’ group evaluate what we’re doing with our policing, and how we can be better, I’m open to that anytime.”
Jamil Davis of Pensacola Dream Defenders spoke at last week’s meeting, telling the audience that in fiscal year 2019, $33 million – or 60% of the city’s budget – goes to public safety.
“And most of that $33 million, of course, going to the police department,” Davis said. “I’m just trying to figure out exactly where all of that $33 million goes to.”
Some of that funding, Davis contends, can be used for other needs, such as the water system in the Wedgewood community.
“I know and am aware that’s an ECUA [Emerald Coast Utilities Authority] issue; but the city [should] play [its] part and restore the water system there,” Davis said. “Proper funding for housing, possibly putting some money towards quality health care. Also worrying about proper mental health services.”
Dream Defenders is also opposed to “Protect Pensacola” -- the formation of a federal gun violence task force, which is on the way to fruition involving the feds -- along with state and local law enforcement -- to tackle firearm and drug issues in Pensacola and Northwest Florida. Davis says he sees similarities between that, and a task force in Tallahassee.
“There were many arrests, but there were very few guns that came off of the street,” said Davis. “This is simply a reason for any sort of federal agency to go primarily to black and brown neighborhoods; harass and possibly arrest individuals for low-level offenses.”
Besides a civilian oversight committee, Mayor Grover Robinson’s other main interest is police training – in-house and out in the field.
“There’s [sic] questions as to how much of it was classroom training, versus how much of it might be practical,” said Robinson. “I thought the other day at the council meeting the gentleman came up to the mic and said, ‘Hey, we’d like to know who our police officers are in our neighborhoods. We think there ought to be something quarterly to go out there.
Robinson says the recent “National Night Out” in Pensacola — sponsored by the Pensacola Police Department and Escambia County Sheriff’s Office — was very well-attended. It’s a program aimed at helping law enforcement build relationships with neighbors and creating safer neighborhoods.
“Maybe we can do a more concerted effort of having those police officers in their individual beats being involved in neighborhood activities,” said the Mayor. “And so as we look at that, training is important, but doing that once a quarter – I didn’t think was as important as maybe training and then actually practically going out and doing.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement continues to investigate Tymar Crawford’s death, and could release the report by August 19. The State Attorney’s Office will review and then determine if the shooting was justified.