Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell was met with sharp criticism last week.
Leaders of the Black community in Charlotte County sat down with officials in local law enforcement and government agencies in an effort to create dialogue and collaborate on change, an effort spearheaded and organized by the Charlotte County Community Foundation.
Some ideas brought forth by activists were accepted by law enforcement and sparked meaningful conversation.
And at times, the conversation with Prummell was heated.
“Do you have any idea how many times y’all pull out your guns for no reason?” said Desmond Bowman, member of Unapologetically Black. “I don’t understand how you can keep being Sheriff.”
Prummell said that he wants to do everything he can to prevent that from happening in Charlotte County.
“I’m not sure what you’re looking for me to say,” Prummell said.
Punta Gorda Police Chief Pamela Davis was also in attendance at the roundtable, but most ire was directed at Prummell and the CCSO.
Carson McNamara, 18, an organizer of the March for Justice protest, said there are discrepancies between CCSO's and PGPD’s policies, and asked Prummell what he’s doing to ensure a culture change in CCSO.
“You need to understand the emotion behind it, because obviously, you will never have to experience it. You guys have never had that experience,” she said. “There needs to be a better job done with community outreach.”
The policies of the CCSO don’t match the words Prummell is saying, McNamara said.
According to Davis, a shift in culture begins with field training officers, the senior officers who train new officers.
“If they're teaching their officers the right things that can change the whole culture of your agency,” Davis said. “If you have the bad ones, you're gonna have a bad culture.”
A main concern from activist groups was the fear that complaints against officers are not taken seriously.
Community members also pointed out that when a complaint is filed against an officer, the person is investigated by their own agency — friends investigating friends.
Prummell cited Florida statutes and the Florida Police Officer Bill of Rights. The Sheriff’s Office has to follow the law, Prummell said.
With current policy, if an agency has more than 30 officers, the investigation must be done by the agency. PGPD has 38 officers and CCSO has 465 deputies.
The Sheriff defended the Internal Affairs process, saying that he’s been very transparent with his investigations and he’s “weeded out” deputies who didn’t live up to the office’s core values.
“I know the concern about officers investigating officers and I understand that,” Prummell said. “But I do hold my people to a higher standard.”
Activists said that the system is built to protect officers and it should be overhauled.
The Justice in Policing act recently unveiled by Democrats in Congress includes grants for State Attorneys General to create an independent process to investigate police misconduct and excessive force. It would also create a federal registry of police complaints and whether disciplinary action was taken.
But Davis said that she has recently looked into hiring a third-party agency to review Internal Affairs investigations and make sure they are handled fairly.
Davis also floated the idea of assigning a community advocate who would be a liaison for the community during the entire complaint process. The position would have to be a volunteer position due to budgetary constraints, Davis later said in an email to the Sun.
The Punta Gorda Police Department will be implementing body cameras on police officers in August, said Davis. She began the process of purchasing the cameras and equipment over a year ago, and obtained a grant through the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, on the other hand, did not decide to implement body cameras until early June. The process for implementing body cameras on officers is a long process, and a timeline was not provided.
Activists asked why it took Prummell so long to take the initiative.
“It does take time because these aren’t things that you just walk into the store and buy off the shelf,” Prummell said. “You’ve got to have the right equipment, you’ve got to know how software works to implement everything, you have to make sure that it’s compatible with your system, you’ve got to train all your staff, you’ve got to install equipment. So there are processes. So this isn't something that happens overnight.”
The PGPD received its body cameras last week, Davis said, and will train its officers on how to use the cameras in July. She offered to make arrangements to have community members watch the training.
PGPD officers will turn their cameras on every time they are reporting to a call for service, or anytime there is a possible crime. They would only have them turned off, for example when officers are doing foot patrol or anything not involving a potential crime.
Citizens Review Board
Alissa Perry, a member of March for Justice Charlotte, noted the Sarasota Police Department’s Police Complaint Committee, and suggested forming a citizen’s review board in Charlotte County.
Prummell said that he recently had his legal counsel look into forming a citizen’s review board, and indicated that he would further pursue the idea.
By the end of the meeting, activists still had more questions, comments and criticisms to share, and seemed eager to continue the dialogue and schedule similar meetings in the future.