Saturday, August 11, 2007

Letter to the Orlando Weekly

The following letter was sent to the Orlando Weekly on Aug. 10 in response to a letter published in the Aug. 9 edition (see below).

Dear Editor:

How interesting that Orlando Police Department Lt. William H. Wood, in his response to comments made by George Crossley in Orlando Weekly's article on Orlando CopWatch, expended so much effort correcting Mr. Crossley's apparent mistake about the number of sworn officers employed by the department. It seems that Lt. Wood wants to deflect attention away from the broader implications of CopWatch; namely, that a significant number of local citizens don't trust many of the police and sheriff's deputies who are supposed to protect them to do their jobs in a professional and unbiased manner, and to use force, whether lethal or non-lethal, as a last resort.

Partly out of desperation and partly out of self-empowerment, those citizens are taking to the streets legally and peacefully to monitor the local constabulary. They
believe the police should be accountable to those who pay their salaries and who can
suffer and even die when they act improperly.

It's irrelevant whether on any given night, all 1,100 or 700 or however many sworn OPD officers, or however many Orange County Sheriff's Deputies, know that Orlando CopWatch is on the streets. What matters is that they are aware that Orlando CopWatch
may be out there, and they, by their own accounts, are adjusting their behavior accordingly, to the mutual benefit of the public and their careers.

If Lt. Wood has "yet to see even a hint of systemic or organizational corruption or brutality" in the OPD or other local law enforcement agencies, perhaps he's willfully overlooking problems or simply can't understand what it's like to be on the powerless side of an encounter with law enforcement, particularly if you live in a poor community of color. Orlando CopWatch continues to receive a steady trickle of complaints from citizens residing in certain areas about harassment, racial profiling and excessive force, and patrols those areas so that citizens there may begin to feel a small measure of peace and safety.

As for OPD's Internal Affairs Unit, the fact that OPD officers are not "enamored by" it (as Lt. Wood so quaintly put it) is irrelevant to the issues at hand. The basic premise of an IA unit, that the police can and should be trusted to police their own ranks and to mete out sanctions to errant officers when appropriate, is dubious at best. However, what little credibility that idea may have is totally undermined by OPD's failure to effectively publicize its IA unit so that citizens may avail themselves of it.

For the record, participants in Orlando CopWatch are not Mr. Crossley's or anyone else's "minions." What a demeaning and insulting characterization. Lt. Wood just doesn't get it. CopWatch exists not because some "leader" is somehow manipulating people into supporting it (an imaginative although grossly inaccurate implication), but because of large festering problems with how local law enforcement interacts with citizens and communities.

CopWatch activists are concerned citizens from all walks of life who through CopWatch attempt to make democracy a meaningful concept. By that we mean citizens being able to control their own lives and their own communities. This includes demanding accountability of government agencies that are supposed to serve the people rather than instilling fear and contempt in them while demanding servitude and blind obedience.

Also, for the record, Mr. Crossley, while a welcome and active participant in Orlando CopWatch, is not its leader. Nor is Orlando CopWatch a creature of the Central Florida ACLU or any other organization. It is a wholly independent, non-hierarchical group that arose from the community and its members collectively make decisions about how it operates.

Ben Markeson,
Orlando CopWatch

From the Aug. 9 Orlando Weekly:


Your article [“Watching the watchers,” Aug. 2], contained several gross inaccuracies that may be a disservice to your readership. While I sincerely wish the Orlando Police Department was 1,100 officers strong as George Crossley affirms, the truth of the matter is that we currently employ slightly more than 700 sworn officers.

In addition to Crossley’s U.S. Park Police-like estimation of our force, chances are that if word spreads that CopWatch is out and about, maybe 10 or 20 officers downtown may hear about it on any given night – not the “1,100” as Crossley asserts more than once in the article. And most officers could care less about CopWatch’s presence as they have nothing to hide.

The Orlando Police Department has always been an agency of openness and inclusion that welcomes community input into how Orlando is policed. In the 25 1/2 years since I’ve been on board, I’ve yet to see even a hint of systemic or organizational corruption or brutality.

Our Internal Affairs unit, while not exactly enamored by our officers, will never turn a blind eye toward any citizen inquiry or allegation. Crossley seems to imply that we are some super-secret organization that needs to be policed by his minions … and again, contrary to Crossley, there is no ticket quota system at OPD. Not on Tuesday, Thursday or any other day of the week.

Crossley is quoted as saying, “It’s like digging into warm sticky male bovine feces. The more you dig, the more you find.” A similar analogy could be drawn in the flippant statements made by Crossley throughout your article: They’re basically laden with B.S.

Lt. William H. Wood,
Orlando Police Department

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