The Apopka Community Task Force on Violence had an open-house meeting last night at The John Bridges Center to introduce its members and give a brief overview of its plan to fight violence in South Apopka. Approximately 100 concerned citizens, elected officials and invited speakers attended the event.
The 16-member task force is diverse in its age, race, gender, professions and life experiences. They are teachers, high school students, community leaders, business owners and members of law enforcement. Some of the members are retired, and some are teenagers. They are African-American, white, Hispanic, male and female.
The task force is scheduled to meet for 90 days and then report its findings, ideas and solutions to minimize violence in Apopka – particularly in South Apopka. But co-chair Rod Love made it clear this will be a fast moving task force, and its goals will be results over words.
“I’m not interested in a 6-12 month process,” he said. “We want to be judged on what we do and not what we say.”
In an 18-page booklet handed out to the audience, the Task Force outlined the areas it will concentrate its efforts on. Those areas include creating better relationships between law enforcement and the community, soliciting leaders to increase their presence and advocacy throughout Apopka, conduct leadership training, create an inventory of programs and identify program service deficits within the community; and coordinate better lines of communication between City and County law enforcement.
I dealt with this issue in Orlando, and what I realized is that relationship is really the foundation to change a community. And I believe we are all here tonight for the love of our community.
It is an extensive list of goals to be accomplished, but tonight was about the community getting a look at the task force and its plans, as well as listening to invited speakers, experts and the public.
Sister Ann Kendrick was one of the first to jump in and offer her support.
“Our basic goal is social justice,” said Kendrick of The Hope Community Center in Apopka. “We lived in Lake Jewel for 28 years before moving to the other side of town. But the other side of town isn’t as far away as it used to be.”
The Hope Community Center also announced it will return to South Apopka on June 25th as they officially open the former Apopka Family Learning Center Building at 800 South Hawthorne Avenue.
Roger Handberg, Chief of the US Attorney’s Office in Orlando also offered his help to the initiative. He stressed community involvement, partnership with law enforcement as the keys to solving violence.
“You can’t prosecute yourself out of this situation. There are no better partners than The Orange County Sheriff’s Office and The Apopka Police Department, but they can’t do it alone. It takes the community. We’re in this together. So talk to me. Talk to the FBI. Talk to the sheriffs or police. But talk.”
Dr. Randy Nelson, a Professor of Criminal Justice at Bethune Cookman College, gave a presentation on the importance of relationships between law enforcement and the community.
“There has to be a relationship, a marriage, between the community and law enforcement,” he said “It can’t just be when a crime is committed the community sees the police take away a neighbor. There has to be involvement beyond the arrests that they see.”
Val Demmings served as Chief of the Orlando Police Department, the first woman to hold the position, and is a candidate for The US House of Representatives 10th District which includes Apopka. She offered advice and a bigger picture in dealing with turning troubled neighborhoods around.
“I dealt with this issue in Orlando, and what I realized is that relationship is really the foundation to change a community. And I believe we are all here tonight for the love of our community. The answer to turning communities around is in the community. The power is and always will be in the hands of the people. The police, classroom and City Hall play a supporting role. But nothing changes until economic development goes into a community. Until recreation goes into a community… when jobs are in a community… training is in a community. That’s what changes a community.”
According to Love, the next task force meeting is "to be announced". The next prospective event is a "Lunch and Munch" for elementary and middle school students, parents and law enforcement representatives. It will be held at the Kit Land Nelson Park with a target date of May 21st if Task Force member and Apopka Police Department Captain Jerome Miller is able to get approval.