PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — The Punta Gorda Police Department and the NAACP hosted a police reform forum Wednesday night at the Charlotte Harbor Event Center.
The event was open to community members, city council members and law enforcement officers to have an open discussion about police relations with communities of color.
Dr. David Thomas, retired police officer and Florida Gulf Coast University Professor, lead the forum as the keynote speaker.
"The police culture needs to change," says Thomas. "I know the community is angry. The minority community is extremely angry because it seems like every day, every week there’s a new video."
Dr. Thomas says his intent was to use his experience as a Black man and a 20-year-veteran of the police force to help bridge the gap between both sides.
"The idea is to try to get people to have an open discussion and get (the community) to understand policing," said Thomas.
Members of the community asked questions and voiced their frustrations with law enforcement.
One woman said her biggest issue is the lack of trust between the black community and police.
"We are being killed at a higher and disproportionate rate than any other race in America," said Alissa Perry. "We’re not just going to be like 'Hi, can I talk to you? Let's go and sit down and have a cup of coffee' because we don’t trust (law enforcement) and we have a valid reason not to."
The discussion continued on to the topic of police force. Dr. Thomas says officers use force to establish control, but fear is what triggers the force to become excessive.
“My speculation is that officers panic when they get into to situations where they can’t control (the situation)," says Thomas.
Police Chief Pamela Davis says this conversation was needed for PGPD to establish better relationships with the community.
“The best way for the officers to establish trust is to get into the communities and focus on community policing,” says Davis.