FORT MYERS — The Lee County NAACP is making an effort to reach out to police departments all across Southwest Florida.
The group met with four of those departments Tuesday in Fort Myers to talk about relations with the black community. That included Punta Gorda Police, Sanibel Police, Cape Coral Police, and the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office.
The original intent for the meeting was to actually have the departments participate in live demonstrations of traffic stops, but NAACP President James Muwakkil said the departments weren’t prepared for that, so they decided to discuss the planned scenarios instead.
Before the meeting, we talked with NAACP Member W. Earl Sparrow about a recent traffic stop that made him fear for his life.
"I asked them can I go and grab my registration? And I moved really slow and they said stop stop stop, because they were scared that I was going to reach for a weapon. We were in a not well-lit area, so I did what they asked me to do, and I almost died because of it," said Sparrow.
Sparrow and other NAACP members wanted to know what the departments are doing to avoid incidents like that. Sanibel Police Chief William Dalton said it’s something he’s working on with his officers right now.
"We’ve instituted deescalation training, it’s mandatory. It’s the first, we just completed it a month ago," said Dalton.
The group also discussed the potential for bias in policing.
"When law enforcement gets behind you, I don’t care if you’ve got a PhD and nine degrees behind your name wearing a $2,000 suit, you are going to be treated differently than the same situation with a white person," said Frederick Morgan, the co-chair of the NAACP Political Action Committee.
Cape Coral Police Chief Anthony Sizemore said his department is working hard to avoid that kind of discrimination.
"Part of maintaining that accreditation is keeping demographic information. Ensuring that you’re recruiting and hiring a representation of your community," said Sizemore.
Afterwards, both Morgan and Sparrow told us they felt like they made progress.
"I feel better about the scenarios, and we have a long way to go, but at least we’re committed to go together," said Sparrow.
The NAACP said it still does hope to organize live demonstrations of traffic stops in the future, and it hopes to host similar meetings like this one every month.