Sanford, Fl., is searching for an outsider to run its troubled Police Department temporarily, and whoever takes the job will face a deeply divided community and little time to build trust, criminal-justice experts and community leaders tell the Orlando Sentinel. On one side are those demanding the firing of police Chief Bill Lee, who stepped aside temporarily after a storm of criticism over the way his department handled the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. On the other side are residents — many of them police officers — who support Lee and want to see him return.
In the background are long-standing complaints of police racism and recent scandals involving officers. “Any interim chief coming into Sanford is certainly going to face challenges,” said Kenneth Adams, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Central Florida. “He will have to deal with a community that is very divided, so it will become a challenge to bring them together in such a short time.” City Manager Norton Bonaparte wants someone who has served as chief of another agency for several years and is able to evaluate the day-to-day functions of the police department, which has 137 employees. Sanford has contracted with the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C., to find candidates for the job. The department has a history of racial incidents. Sanford’s previous chief, Brian Tooley, was criticized when his department did not arrest a police officer’s son captured on video punching a homeless black man.