‘I've said over and over again," says Orlando Police Chief Michael McCoy, reaching for the June 29 Orlando Weekly that chronicled the deaths of the then 30 murder victims in 2006, "I wish I could hire reporters, because they make such great investigators."
The tally is now up to 39, and that macabre volume has prompted McCoy to go into the community for help. Last month McCoy and city commissioners Patty Sheehan and Phil Diamond brought together about 150 citizens for a crime summit. The response, though slightly hair-triggered, was remarkable.
"The chief asked, ‘How many of you have been affected by crime?'" says Sheehan. "And the whole room's hands went up."
It's a calculated tactic, one that's been lifted from similar programs in Boston and Houston, and one that McCoy says has already been helpful in recent incidents involving the use of Tasers and the much-publicized Nazi parade in February ("White like me," March 2).
"We think we've stumbled onto a gold mine when it comes to involving the community in our business," McCoy says.
Commissioner Phil Diamond
Murder 2 +200%
Sex offenses, forcible 20 +53.8%
Robbery 75 +70.5%
Commissioner Betty Wyman
Murder 2 +200%
Sex offenses, forcible 21 +23.5%
Robbery 86 +75%
Commissioner Robert Stuart
Murder 2 -66.7%
Sex offenses, forcible 25 -21.9%
Robbery 150 +31.6%
Commissioner Patty Sheehan
Sex offenses, forcible 25 +108%
Aggravated assault 141 +12.4%
Commissioner Daisy Lynum
Murder 22 +340%
Sex offenses, forcible 65 +20.4%
Robbery 425 +32%
Commissioner Sam Ings
Murder 7 +600%
Robbery 218 +25.3%
Aggravated assault 401 +16.6%
The gold mine has a confusing matrix of named initiatives — the Safe Orlando Task Force, the three-year Public Safety Initiative, Community Orlando Policing (COP) — aimed at confronting headlines calling this "Orlando's deadliest year."
Is it working? Maybe. But McCoy's strategy has as much to do with reducing the perception of crime as it does the reality of it. "We tell people that if you're not dealing drugs, living with people dealing drugs, buying drugs, picking up prostitutes at 3 in the morning, or you're not living in an unstable domestic relationship with a firearm in the house, your chances are relatively slim," McCoy says.
The concentrated nature of violent crime in Orlando is well-illustrated by the red- dotted maps Capt. Charles Robinson of the West Patrol Division lays out. Each dot represents a violent crime, and Parramore and west Orlando are pocked with them. But that doesn't mean violence in Orlando is an issue only in black neighborhoods, McCoy points out.
"You float as high as your highest ship and you sink as low as your lowest ship, too," he says. "There are robberies, too, and that affects everybody. And there's white guys going down buying drugs, and they get shot, too. There's the school system, there's the family system, it's all related. We should all take responsibility for it."
Commissioner Daisy Lynum, whose district includes Parramore, says the area has a bad rap. "Most in my district are not drug pushers. They don't buy illegal guns. They're not all incompetent. They have talents."
McCoy, adds Lynum, "doesn't seem to want to work with me."
Sam Ings, whose district has also seen a rise in violent crime, is taking a different approach. He's working with Orlando police to speak with victims, apartment managers and homeowners.
Commissioner Betty Wyman says crime is down 40 percent in her district, thanks to a police task force of six to eight police officers (something each of the districts has) and neighborhood watch programs. Likewise, Robert Stuart, commissioner of District 3 — where crime remains low — is focusing on a single area, Rosemont.
Commissioner Sheehan says she isn't doing much differently at all. "I've been doing it all along," she says of her active participation in neighborhood association meetings, assisted by her police liaison, Jim Young.
Arrest initiatives like Operation Restore in May and Operation Felony Focus last month — both concentrated tactical patrol efforts, the latter resulting in more than 500 arrests — may be putting hundreds in jail (and citing thousands of others). But police are not just trying to strongarm their way out of the problem. Robinson stresses clergy outreaches and mentoring programs, for example, to identify local "persons of influence" who can help deter crime before it happens.
"It has never been an issue with people not wanting to work with us," says Robinson. "It's an issue where we're just asking the community to assist us now and help us solve this problem. Because law enforcement cannot do it alone; we've never been able to do it alone. But with the help of citizens out there assisting us in finding out who the bad guys are, what type of activity is going on in your neighborhood, giving us a call at its earliest point … we can stop something from happening, a tragedy out in the community."
McCoy says the answer isn't to change tactics district by district, because the message is universal. "The crime has gone up overall, I think, 7 percent," he says, "but so has the population." (The national increase for violent crimes in 2005 was 2.5 percent, according to FBI data.) "So I'm careful about drawing those distinctions."firstname.lastname@example.org