‘We’re here to help’

Published 5:58 am Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Following events, deputies to undergo more training

In the wake of last week’s mass police shootings in Dallas, Sheriff Grover Smith said new training guidelines for deputies will soon be implemented.

The nation watched as news of confrontations, and violence marked the weekend, including the death of Alton Sterling, who was shot by police officers outside a convenience story in Baton Rouge, La., last Tuesday; the death of Philando Castile Wednesday in Minnesota, who was shot by a police officer; and the deaths of five officers last Thursday in Dallas at the hand of a gunman who also wounded nine others, and said he was reacting to the previous deaths

Sheriff Grover Smith

Sheriff Grover Smith

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last week.

“(The agency) is going to become less passive and more proactive, by trying to teach officers and establish a mentality and attitude that we are a service organization.”

– Sheriff Grover Smith

In an apparently unrelated event in Michigan Monday, two court bailiffs were killed and a deputy was injured after an inmate grabbed an officer’s gun outside a holding cell. Officers also shot and killed the suspect in that case.

Smith, who addressed the Escambia County Commission Monday, said he “spent a lot of time thinking” about recent events and now plans to implement across-the-board departmental training on citizen treatment.  Similar efforts are ongoing nationwide in various law enforcement agencies.

“The first response is that the public makes up their mind about a police officer using lethal force before they know the facts, and I can attest to that in the past 43 years I’ve spent as a police officer,” Smith said.  “The second thing is, and you can take this to heart, it’s very difficult to change yourself, and it’s virtually impossible to change other people.

“So, instead of trying to get other people to try and understand a police officer’s position, I met with my chief deputy yesterday and put him in charge of this endeavor that we’re going to begin training immediately in how we interact with persons of all color,” he said.

“My former police chief, Glen Holt, said, “If you’re not helping the community, you’re wasting tax payers’ money,’” Smith said. “That’s the creed I live by. (The agency) is going to become less passive and more proactive, by trying to teach officers and establish a mentality and attitude that we are a service organization.

“We’re here to protect,” he said.  “Our job is essentially to make people’s lives better.  Sometimes that includes taking people to jail. We will do our job, but we will try to do it in a more compassionate, professional and understanding manner.”

Smith said his comments shouldn’t be taken as a re-election ploy. With two-and-a-half years remaining in his term, Smith said he does not plan to seek reelection “for this or any other political office.”

“So what I’m saying here (Monday), for the next two-and-a-half years, we’re going to have training for everyone – whether they work at the jail, answer the phone or sweep the floor – to display courtesy and respect to every person – regardless of race that they deal with in their official capacity.”

Smith said he likes the police officers as “guardians” of the community.

“We have an awesome amount of responsibility and we are given a tremendous amount of power (as police officers),” he said. “A police officer is the only person allowed under law allowed to take another person’s life without judicial review. That’s an awesome power given to some people who, I’m sure, not should have it. I like to think that every officer who works for Escambia County values life and treats every person with respect.”

Smith said he doesn’t plan to hold any organized community meetings. Instead, those meetings will be held individually and privately with those who have concerns.

“People posture for the news,” he said.  “When you start having group meetings, unfortunately we act different when we know what we say is being written down.”

Smith said he was led to speak out because of the love he has for the community.