On February 22, 2023, another tragic and senseless shooting by a lone gunman claimed the lives of three people, a nine-year-old girl, a journalist, and an adult female. Mayor Jerry L. Demings consequently reconvened the Orange County Citizens Safety Task Force.
The task force was charged with re-examining the 2021 Citizens Safety Task Force Report and making modifications. The goal was to identify solutions and strategies to reduce and prevent gun violence and violent crime in the community. The major zip codes identified as having higher crime rates include several in District 2, 32703 (Downtown & Southern Apopka), 32808 (North Pine Hills and Rosemont), and 32810 (Lockhart).
The task force was comprised of 33 members representing diverse backgrounds to help identify solutions to longstanding problems. They participated in two community meetings to better engage residents and receive input on strategies to reduce violent crime. A survey was also relaunched to gauge residents’ perception of crime and seek input and solutions.
The Task Force Report includes 16 recommendations in the areas of prevention, intervention, enforcement, and prosecution. Key participants included Mayor John Mina, Apopka Chief of Police Mike McKinley, Pastor Sabrina Jones, and Orange County staff.
To read the report in its entirety, go here.
While I will not list all 16 recommendations, here are a few highlights. Under prevention, the report suggested expanding access to parents and mental and behavioral health programs and partnering with the municipalities to implement evidence-based community violence intervention (CVI) models. Both the county and the City of Orlando have new programs which need time to mature. I also believe the City of Apopka should begin a program.
Under intervention, the plan recommends coordinating with mental health providers to increase the number of providers in the areas identified and require agencies to increase their hours of operation. And this recommendation from my experience is key: teach and educate families, youth, and young adults on life skills programs. I’d like to know more about how the recommendation will be faithfully implemented. Dr. Tracy Salem will be working with Deputy Chief of Staff Carol Burkett and Deputy Administration Carla Bell Johnson.
Under enforcement, it was recommended to continue the community ambassador program to connect organizations, community leaders, and members to provide details on key resources, activities, and events offered in the county. Secondly, it was suggested the Sheriff’s Office Behavioral Response Unit increase awareness of their programs and services. And of course, this program should be replicated in the municipalities.
Finally, under prosecution, ideas were promulgated to identify an advocate who will make pass legislation that would create protections for witnesses. Additionally, the state attorney’s office should issue a statement of affirmation and commitment to fully prosecuting gun violence cases and increasing street cameras.
My office has spent a significant amount of time promoting the Neighborhood Leader’s Program to share principles for keeping entire neighborhoods, corridors, and communities safe from the intrusion of crime. I have significant support in the Lockhart, Wekiwa Springs, and North Pine Hills areas. I need more people to step up in the Apopka area. While there is significant participation on social media, I need more boots on the ground.
Nevertheless, the Orange County Citizens Safety Task Force report addressed reducing crime. Their recommended services include more mental health, credible messengers, and conflict resolution training. As an active grandmother, I cannot stress enough the importance of character training for grandchildren. There is no reason to wait for the local government to provide all the solutions. Every one of us has a role in building safer communities through quality time with family members.
To read the Orange County Newsroom's release on the task force, go here.