FORT MYERS, Fla. — Chief Derrick Diggs has spent his life putting his own safety at risk to protect and serve countless hours.
As part of an effort to transform the department, the chief says he pushed for stronger community relations between officers and those who live in the City of Fort Myers.
That initiative includes the Police Athletic League - headquartered near Downtown Fort Myers.
Also known as PAL, the program provides personal enrichment to local youth through various activities, including sports.
The chief says athletics help to get students engaged with officers - and provides opportunities for deeper connection.
Diggs says what happens at PAL is part of a bigger vision for the department.
"When I first got here, there was a lot of distrust between the community and the police department,” Diggs says.
While he wasn’t chief at the time, Diggs tells us that the 2016 mass shooting at Club Blu in Fort Myers exposed a need for better connection and trust between the department and the people of Fort Myers.
"A situation where 14 kids were shot at and 2 killed and no-one comes forth with information…no one tries to cooperate…no information. That says a lot about the status of the police department and its relationship with the community. I knew then and there that we'd have to do some things different to build trust in the community."
“Some things” include change within the department as well, Diggs says.
"Remember there was thing that came out called the Freeh Report.”
That’s a 2018 review of the Fort Myers Police Department completed by an outside firm.
It outlined concerns within the organization and how it functioned, using terms like “misconduct and mismanagement”.
It offered 32 recommendations for change.
"Within the first year, we had about 97 - 98% of those recommendations accomplished.”
Diggs says PAL is an accomplishment, too.
He says playing sports impacted his life as well.
“If kids could have just 10 percent of the opportunities I had when I was a kid, they wouldn't divert into all the stuff now.”
That’s the reason, Diggs says, his department’s dedicated to the youth in our community: it’s personal, it’s transformational and it’s the future.