The constant calls for police reform and repeated attempts to discredit FDLE Uniform Crime Reporting statistics in Fort Myers are disheartening to those of us who have worked directly with the Fort Myers Police Department and witnessed its transformation firsthand. Modern policing reforms were already in place in Fort Myers prior to the national debate on use of force. Chief Derrick Diggs implemented progressive policing strategies, resulting in a 51% decrease in violent crime.
FMPD is fully compliant with Campaign Zero’s #8Can’tWait policies to bring immediate change to police departments. Policies include mandatory de-escalation techniques to eliminate the need to use force, adoption of the use of force continuum, bans on chokeholds and strangleholds, bans on shooting at moving vehicles, and requires warning before shooting. Officers must exhaust all alternatives prior to use of deadly force.
The policies require intervention to stop excessive force used by other officers, and comprehensive reporting ensures transparency. While studies have shown the chances of killing civilians increases the more arrests a police department makes, the likelihood is shaped by the department’s policies governing how and when police can use force during those encounters in our community.
A law enforcement professional with more than four decades of experience, Chief Diggs came into a department facing significant challenges in 2016. With the support of City Manager Saeed Kazemi, he set in motion a plan to restore integrity, professionalism, accountability and respect in all levels of the organization to achieve trust and transparency. The realignment included new diversity and inclusion initiatives involving targeted recruitment strategies and regular training on fair and impartial police practices.
Chief Diggs immediately prioritized creating a platform of data-driven insights which ultimately evolved into the Real Time Crime Center. The city’s police department is now among the most advanced agencies in the nation.
Violent crime is down 51% over the past five years, as detailed in the latest FDLE Uniform Crime Reporting statistics. FMPD obtained Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) advanced law enforcement recertification in February 2020 upon successful reform and reorganizational efforts.
It’s a tremendous accomplishment given the crime reduction comes at a time of exponential population growth in Florida. The City of Fort Myers was the fastest growing city in the United States in both 2018 and 2020, and it remains a top vacation and retirement destination. Demands on FMPD due to population growth are staggering.
To keep up with the calls for service, Chief Diggs worked with the housing authority, city leadership, outreach providers and faith-based organizations to acquire and open six neighborhood police substations. This decentralized approach facilitates direct neighborhood engagement between officers and the communities they serve.
During the COVID-19 global pandemic in 2020 continuing into 2021, 33 of the largest cities in the United States reported increases in gun violence and homicides. That is not the case in Fort Myers. FMPD deployed a uniquely tailored approach during the pandemic, shifting focus to analyze potential effects on crime including unemployment, disruption of routines, and impacts of youth being home from school.
Chief Diggs navigates these difficult political environments with a laser focus on improving public safety outcomes, consistently delivering change and positive momentum. The gains have not gone unnoticed. Our community is safer because of his efforts.
Marcus D. Goodson is an affordable housing consultant.