Communication Builds Our Community

Slaton Provides Update on Police Department Priorities

Interim City Manager Expects Improved Police-Community Relations

Since his appointment June 2, Interim City Manager James Slaton has worked closely with Lake Wales Police Chief Chris Velasquez to address commissioner and city concerns.

Slaton recently emailed an update to commissioners along with a more detailed report from Velasquez, which he said described "positive changes and improvements that are now taking place."

Slaton also said he would in the near future be bringing forward for commission consideration an agenda item with costs and plans to implement police work body cameras.

Slaton's summary update cited the following improvements:

POLICE PRACTICES: The department has modified its General Orders to further restrict the use of choke holds and to ensure officers go through a de-escalation process when met with resistance. Officers have been reminded to consider factors such as mental health or Medical conditions, drug use, language barriers or other issues that might be contributing to resistance. The General Orders also reinforce the duty of officers to intervene and stop other officers from acting improperly and to report inappropriate actions, including abuse of authority or excessive force.

ACCREDITATION: Sgt. Stephanie Goreck will head up the department's initiative to obtain Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation. Obtaining accreditation will ensure that our police department not only implements best practices in modern law enforcement, but it also demonstrates we are meeting those standards to an impartial third party.

COMMUNITY LIAISON: Veteran Lake Wales Officer Ed Palmer will serve as Community Liaison Officer, working to improve relations with citizens, especially in the northwest community. Palmer also will mentor newer officers and introduce them to community policing. This is the new position recently approved by the CRA Board.

ADVISORY COMMITTEE: Deputy Chief Troy Schulze, who will be the police department's representative, is working to schedule the first meeting of the revamped Citizens and Police Community Advisory Committee. (The committee held its first meeting Sept. 21.)

TRAINING: All sworn officers have been receiving additional training on such topics as situational awareness, community policing, de-escalation, anti-bias policing, implicit bias, officer safety, officer mental health, stress management and COVID-19 awareness topics.

COMMUNITY OUTREACH: Police department leaders have met multiple times with well-respected community and faith-based leaders to discuss law enforcement challenges and obtain feedback into how to improve trust and relationships. They also have started a new Rally Point program, where they set up a canopy tent and chairs at various locations to meet informally with citizens.

"I personally have met with, and will continue to meet with, various residents and community leaders to build positive relationships, to gain insight into community issues, and to look for collaborative solutions to problems," Slaton wrote. "Much has gotten started in the last three months and I am looking forward to the positive benefits of these new initiatives.

"I appreciate your patience as we are implementing changes that we believe will improve police-community relationships and better serve the public."


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