Unlike Ferguson, Baltimore or, most recently, Milwaukee, the Tampa/Hillsborough County community hasn’t had to contend with civil unrest due to a police shooting. Aware such an incident can literally happen overnight, however, the Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday approved a program that would attempt to enhance relations between law enforcement and the community over the next year.
Fred Hearns, a former longtime official with the city of Tampa’s Community Affairs Department, is heading up the program, called the Community Law Enforcement Workshop (CLUE). He said he and his team will recruit about 40 Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies and 300 members of the public to attend the workshops, ideally creating one deputy for every seven citizens selected. “That gives us the opportunity to have some one-on-one discussions at the workshops,” he said.
There will be four adult workshops, two youth workshops, and a leadership retreat to conclude the series of meetings.
“The meat of this program is to sit people down in a nonthreatening environment so that they can have honest conversations,” Hearns said, adding that those conversations will be recorded and analyzed afterward from the perspective of both the community member as well as the law enforcement officer.
Among the texts that will be utilized in the program are “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin, “White Like Me” by Tim Wise, “Tell The Truth and Shame The Devil,” written by Lezley McFadden (the mother of Michael Brown) and “The War on Cops” by Heather Mac Donald. Hillsborough commissioners hope workshops can enhance relations between law enforcement and the public.
“I think this is a very big, preventative measure,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who like the rest of her colleagues, voted to approve the program. “Hopefully we’ll never have any kind of occurrence here that would upset and bring chaos to our community,” she said.
The programs will cost $30,000 to fund, which BOCC Chairman Les Miller described as a “drop in the bucket for what they’re going to be doing to try to prevent us having some of the incidents that have happened across this country happening in Hillsborough County.”
The sheriff’s office will provide services such as ride-alongs that will be classified as in-kind donations. County Administrator Mike Merrill said he hoped to obtain additional funding through applying for grants, or find money within the county’s Community Liaison budget.