Orange County Race and Justice Panel

Written by Mark O'Mara on . Posted in Outreach

panel line up

Last week, I participated in a panel discussion about race and justice in Central Florida. Moderated by the Honorable Judge Faye Allen, the panel included Major Vereen from the Orange County Sheriff’s office, state senator Gary Siplin, Orlando Police Chief John Mina, state attorney Jeff Ashton, and criminal defense attorneys Alisia Adamson and Louis Calderon.

Judge Allen asked each of the panelists how the criminal justice system in Central Florida rates in regards to treatment of African Americans. Both law representatives of law enforcement gave our system a rating of “fair.” I agreed, and I suggest that unless everyone involved in the criminal justice system admits that there is a bias in the system, we won’t be able to fix it. One practical way to instill trust is to fund and utilize body cameras. Daytona Beach P.D. has had them for a couple of years, and use of force incidents have dropped, as well as complaints against cops. There has even been an increase in pleas to criminal events which were recorded, which saves an enormous amount of funds.

Below are some highlights from the discussion:

Should There Be Special Prosecutors for Officer Involved Shootings?

I suggested to Jeff Ashton that prosecutors should not be responsible for prosecuting officer involved shootings that happen within the district they serve -- that special prosecutors from out of the district step in. Mr. Ashton suggests, because the position of State Attorney is an elected position, that an out-of-town prosecutor would not be held accountable by the local constituency.

Focusing on Preventing Crime in Black Communities

When Judge Faye Allen asked a question about dealing with black on black crime, Major Vereen shifted focus to preventing crime in the black community -- including focusing on the social issues of education, housing, and poverty. He specifically notes that athletic programs have been taken away from middle schools. While middle school gyms sit empty in the afternoon, young teens have more opportunity to get into trouble.

Orlando Police Chief on Use of Force Incidents

How officers contend with use of force incidents has been scrutinized in the wake of Ferguson and the Eric Garner case. Chief Mina explains that his officers had more than 400,000 community engagements in 2014, with only 600 incidents resulting in a use of force events. He also stresses, as many in law enforcement do, that officers “don’t wake up in the morning” hoping for an opportunity to use force.