STARKE, Fla. – Area law enforcement officers are keeping a close watch on national tensions between police and protesters, some are reinforcing their training on use of force and de-escalation.
With nationwide protests and controversy over the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and the infamous ‘I can’t breathe’ video of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, police are facing a lot of scrutiny and criticism. This tension has some local agencies doubling down on their policies.
Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith said it’s a time to stress bonding with the community.
“You can’t wait until something happens to engage,” he told News4Jax on Wednesday. “That had to be a process that started years before that. You don’t wake up one day and say, ‘Oh, we’re gonna fix it.’"
Bradford County’s newest sheriff’s deputy, Jacob Desue, said he’s aware he’s joining the force at a divisive time.
"I’m black and I’m white,” Desue pointed out. “That’s where my nationality comes from. I’ve always dealt with discrimination even at a younger age.”
He noted he sees both sides of the story right now when it comes to the nationwide protests and hopes to use his badge as a go-between for the people and police.
“If they know my story and they know where I come from coming in that would help them to understand the world around them,” said Desue, adding that he’ll also be a resource for fellow law enforcement.
Police conduct is under a microscope now with citizens claiming brutality racism and unlawful arrests.
Bradford County is admittedly very different than Minneapolis, Atlanta or even Jacksonville. It’s a rural area with about 30,000 people. About 20% of the population is black, according to the 2010 Census. Residents say there is still some unrest and racial tension.
On Wednesday afternoon, News4Jax saw deputies and school guardians training in Starke, going over how to deal with conflicts and de-escalation, among other tactics.
Smith said his agency tries to be one with the community and that commitment is reinforced with the deaths of Taylor and Floyd. The Associated Press reported prosecutors charged the Minneapolis police officer accused of pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck with a new more serious charge of second-degree murder on Wednesday, and for the first time leveled charges against three other officers at the scene, according to criminal complaints.
“Putting a knee in someone’s neck, we learned about the head and neck being some of the most vulnerable areas,” Smith said. “That’s a last resort. That’s if you’re in a life and death situation that you would even use something like that.”
Smith calls what happened in Minneapolis murder and said the other three officers share responsibility for Floyd’s death.
The longtime sheriff said his deputies stay away from “no knock” search warrants, like those that Louisville police were using when they accidentally shot and killed Taylor. He said few high-risk situations still call for this, but they’re rare and done with significant research prior to entering.
He said use of force should also be minimized and deputies wear body cameras and have dashboard cameras. Video from incidents should be released promptly, he believes.
Desue, who’s been on patrol by himself for about a month, knows he will face challenges as a biracial deputy.
“My mother, who is prior law enforcement, she told me that you’re going to get into this job and people are gonna look at you a different way. They may look at you as black, they may look at you as white or they may look at you as blue. And I accept all three of those categories.”