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Florida county hopes to improve police relations nationwide

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Officer-involved shootings and riots that are broadcast on television and social media throughout the country have splintered relationships between communities and police. But a rural Florida county hopes it can be a lesson to departments everywhere.

In Gadsden County -- 20 miles west of Tallahassee -- a three-day police summit includes law enforcement speakers from Ferguson, Baltimore and Sanford.

"We were, a few years ago, No. 2 in the state as it relates to violent crimes per capita," said Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young.

Young recruited the faith-based community to work side-by-side with police, and he’s getting results.

"We see ourselves around 35 or 37 in the state," he said.

One of the men helping Young is pastor Titus Deas, who helps oversee churches from Tallahassee to Tampa. He said Gadsden can be a lesson to police departments across Florida.

"The race issue is definitely as prevalent now as it was in the '60s," Deas said. "But what we're finding is that education, understanding one another and coming together, and having town hall meetings is something that's helping."

Experts say one of the keys in preventing tension in the future is to get out into the community before problems start.

Gadsden hosted the fifth rural county summit for law enforcement agencies across the state and the country. With high-profile incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore – as well as a laundry list of officer-involved shootings fresh in peoples' minds – Ron Davis of the U.S. Department of Justice said both sides have a responsibility to help keep the peace.

"The community has a right to be outraged when they see misconduct," Davis said. "They have a right to demand accountability and expect it, but they also have the obligation to work with law enforcement to make the department better."

The summit includes members of every level of law enforcement from around the state and members of the educational and judicial communities.