Haines City Police Community Discussion

Haines City Police Sgt. Christopher Colon said that the first thing he tries to do is to de-escalate any situation while speaking at a discussion with a church youth group on June 12.

HAINES CITY – Corey Crosthwaite, a youth pastor for Still Water Christian Life Center, recently invited Haines City Police Chief James R. Elensky to send some of his officers to the church to speak to his youth group, giving the youth and parents the opportunity to ask questions in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd.

On Friday, June 12, Haines City Police Department officers and deputies with the Polk County Sheriff's Office spoke to the church’s youth group for around two hours. The following day, there was a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in front of the Haines City Police Department headquarters, with speeches made by City Manager Deric Feacher and Vice Mayor Anne Huffman, among other leaders.

During a city commission meeting June 18, Huffman said that, unlike other communities, Haines City has been peaceful over the past few weeks and that healthy communication with the community was a testament to the leadership of Elensky and Feacher.

Both spoke to BLM organizers in advance of the protest and city staff set up microphones and traffic barricades so the area residents could speak their mind safely, Feacher said.

Feacher provided some data to Crosthwaite and the youth church group, as evidence to support his closing statement — which was that HCPD has a diverse department.

For example, the data illustrates that there are more HCPD officers of color than there are white officers.

“I believe our demographics for law enforcement shows a very diverse breakdown,” Feacher wrote.

Elensky has sent two letters to the Haines City Commission indicating his support for HCPD officers wearing body cameras, should the commission decide to take that route.

At the protest out front of HCPD June 13, Huffman said she would support purchasing body cameras, but only if taxes or fees were not necessary to fund the purchase. Feacher chose not to say how he would find the funding to make such a large investment but did make it clear, when asked, that he supported the concept of purchasing body cameras for HCPD officers.

At the church youth group meeting, four HCPD officers and two PCSO deputies denounced the actions of the Minneapolis police officer who has been charged with murdering George Floyd, according to HCPD Public Information Officer Mike Ferguson.

All of the first responders further told the youth group that each would have intervened if they saw a colleague taking such actions.

Feacher said the city is implementing or researching other policing initiatives in Haines City in the coming months, in response to community-expressed policing concerns. A duty to intervene policy is being drafted that would require officers to stop other officers who are engaging in inappropriate use of force.

“We hired (an experienced) investigator from outside of our agency to perform all Internal Affairs Investigation for police misconduct,” Feacher said.

A Citizen Advisory Group may be created to discuss conflict between residents and officers. Roundtables may be set up to give residents a chance to express their opinions about officers, Feacher said.

The Haines City Commission created a Charter Review Committee June 18, in part, to debate whether to create a Citizen Advisory Board to review HCPD interactions with the public. For those interested in being on the committee, contact City Clerk Linda Bourgeois.