By Jacqueline Miles
We had the opportunity to talk with Chief David Alexander about his newly attained position as the first African Chief of Pensacola. In his 33 years of Law Enforcement, Chief Alexander expressed his sentiments about many things as it pertains to the City of Pensacola.
How does it feel being the Chief of Police for Pensacola, Florida? It is like a fulfillment of a dream. But it was a dream that I knew would be important to a lot of people. So, I’m happy to be here but at the same time, I’m kinda like the quarterback in the championship game and now it’s time to get down to business.
Since you have been in this position, I understand that you have made quite a few changes. Can you elaborate on some of those changes? During my acceptance speech, I said I wanted to build on things that we had accomplished in the previous administration and move forward. My ideal vision is to have a 21st century police department that’s legitimate to the community and that the community consents to the authority of the police. What I’m saying is that the community recognizes the authority of the police as something that needs to be in the community so that everybody and our streets are kept safe.
Speaking of safe—What is crime like now that you are at the helm being Chief? What is your overall view of crime in the city of Pensacola? In the city, compared to back in 2011, 2012, crime is low. Most of time people are referring to violent crimes. Violent crimes are low compared to the 2011-1012 era. During that time crimes had actually spiked where we had quite a few homicides. But one of the things that has helped up get through that part, the officers and investigators have been working relentlessly to build trusting relationship with citizens so that we can solve crimes; especially those crimes that create a dangerous environment for our community. When you talk about property crimes-property crimes all over the nation have been high and at times they have spiked because we will have a problem where people go through an apartment complex and shaking doors or shaking doors on cars. You would be surprised how many people in the 21st century are still trying to live with their front doors unlocked and left open; even with their cars left open with valuables out in the open thinking that people are not going to tempted to want to take it. That is a crime of opportunity when a vehicle is left unlocked. We are working relentlessly to find the persons responsible and put together strong cases to bring them to justice. That effort could not have gone as well as it has if citizens in all of the different neighborhoods had not been willing to cooperate and work with us. That is what the community policing is all about; citizens working together with law enforcement to keep the streets safe.
I realize that being the Chief, your main concern is for the community as a whole, however, being an African American Newspaper that also speaks a lot for the African American community, I would like to talk to you about the drugs that we have going on in our community. Where do you see our community going and how can we better our community to rid it of the drug infestation? One of the things that we have to stop doing is finding creative verbiage to lessen the truth about the impact of drugs in our community. I respect the academia; I respect those who are in positions and put this information out. But I think the information should be to inform them not to make or create loopholes or gaps or lapse of responsibility. When you talk about a drug problem being a disease or call it a disease of addition, then what it does, it gives a person a subconscious excuse to say it’s not my fault it’s a disease that just happened to me. So now when there are a lot of people hooked on drugs and they are out here dealing with this drug problem, it takes away from the fact of responsibility. There’s somebody out here supplying these drugs; there’s somebody out here buying these drugs and that’s basis for principles of economics and the principles of supply and demand. So if the demands are there and there is nobody trying to address why are these folks out here seeking these drugs – because drugs are ways that people deal with problems that should be dealt with other ways. That ties in a whole lot of different things. What it comes down to is policing the drug problem; it is a mitigating factor. A lot of kids are failing in school. It’s common and culturally accepted to go out here and hit a lick out on the street corner and now you are back in business and you are rolling high. But you are taking something out of the community when you do that. So, basically, drugs are a basic part in which citizens in the African American community prey on each other. And we are looking for solutions that are very broad like jobs and opportunities. When you’ve got drug problems, you have a hard time getting out because you are not going to be responsible enough to keep the housing and use your resources to run the housing properly. A job-the same thing. It hurts us. A lot of young men and young ladies are not able to pass drug tests. Then we are allowing our background to be laden with drug charges that hinders us. When people in the community call and complain about the drug problem, we have to respond. If we don’t respond, there are repercussions from elected officials and those who appoint law enforcement to their jobs. So they don’t have the luxury of walking away and saying that there is nothing that they can do about it, they are going to have to work on the problem. So when they work on the problem, and someone is arrested and the drug problem is eradicated for a moment, the community doesn’t say we don’t want this to come back. All you have done is bought a little time before it’s back again. It may be different people, but it’s the same problem. This means that the children are having to grow up without their parents. We have parents that are raising their grandchildren. So, drugs are not the only problem we have, but drugs make the problems we have in our community worse. We have to continue as an agency and as a Chief. As a Black citizen I have to be mindful of people of how this is affecting people who are not going to speak up for themselves or cannot speak up for themselves. I have to realize that they too want to be protected and feel safe in their homes. If they are being victimized and If you are talking about mass incarceration, I don’t like mass incarceration, but people are going to have to be a part of the solution in reducing mass incarceration.
Often times in our neighborhood there are drug houses. If someone that would like to report that they have this in their neighborhood, is there a way that they can do that and remain anonymous? There are so many ways that you can do that. We have Crime Stoppers for one. That information is anonymous. Whether you collect the money or not is entirely up to you. But the fact of the matter is to make sure law enforcement gets the information. They have text-a-tip; there are so many ways that someone can anonymously report crimes. Even with me—if you put my name and information in an envelope, and send it to me, I will make sure that the information gets into the right hands. There are many ways you can report a crime, but you must make sure that the information you give will be enough for us to act on the crime. We do have rules of law that we must follow. If we don’t follow the rules and get to court, there is a possibility that when it gets there it could be thrown out and all of the tips and hard work put into this crime will be for nothing. Some drug eradication takes a lot longer than others because we are getting enough information to make a stronger case. Even with the complexity of drug cases, we still need people to stand up. That’s part of citizenship.
There once was a time when gaining the trust of officers they would be out and about on their horses and/or bicycles in the community. Do you see that as part of perhaps your plan or something that would be worth it for the community as a whole? Yes. We’ve actually begun to increase our interaction with the community. We started with the youth. We realize that the youth perception of law enforcement changes with various stages of ages. So, we are establishing our legitimacy from the terrible two’s up to the young adults ages 18-25; Positively interacting with citizens in especially in high crime and high risk areas to build that trusting relationship. And yes, part of my style of policing—I’ve coined it “intentional policing” – because what we want to do is establish our significance to the public. When people see you as being important and valuable to their well-being then it changes how they interact with you and respond to you. Relationship between the community and law enforcement should always be maintained and strengthened. We have to be able to talk to people with credibility and talk to other people that can give factual information.
How’s your budget for 2016? Are you looking for more money or equipment? How’s that? Well, our budget for 2016 has already been established and we are operating in the constraints of that budget. We are starting to work on 2017 and there are some requests we will make that will enhance our law enforcement and policing efforts. We will be looking to increase the visibility of officers in the neighborhoods whether on bikes or cars. We want to increase the interaction with the community.
What is your schedule like in one day? I definitely try to get up earlier enough to get to online prayer. Because without prayer it’s a hectic day of problem solving and decision making. With prayer, it helps me set the tone of my attitude to stay focused. From there it’s about prioritizing and balancing my personal life. I have to still make time for my wife. My phone starts ringing around 7am with many calls pertaining to law enforcement from people who know me and the department. I have learned to ask for help and I rely on my Administrative Assistant, Ms. Tara Spencer, because she helps me keep my schedule. At the end of the day, it could be from a little child to a senior citizen, not to mention collaborating with other efforts. I’ve learned to take mini vacations because if I don’t I could burn out and have to take an early departure for health reasons.
It is our sincere desire that you maintain your mental and physical capacities so that you can continue on your journey that you are on. Thank you for being a part of this community. Thank for your efforts and now being the Chief adds a lot to you plate. I am also thankful that I have the opportunity of interacting with The Pensacola Voice for many years. In fact, for the entire duration of my career at the police department, The Pensacola Voice has covered when I was a Cadet working in Community Relations, we were transporting people from housing to public areas to recreation facilities for competitive sports, your dad, Les Humphrey, was very instrumental in a lot of my community relations orientation in terms of what the needs are and how to deal with the needs and not get caught up in the emotions and some of the excitement that goes on with emotions. And that has been very helpful and I can say that The Pensacola Voice has been a very strong sounding piece in the Black community and yet remains to be so.
We are looking forward to working with The Pensacola voice to submit articles for the community to help get information out about subjects that they have questions about. When I leave, I want the relationship between the Black community and law enforcement to be better than it was when I came into this position. And I think we’ve come a long way but I think we have a long ways to go because there are a lot of problems that still have to be dealt with and it’s going to take that police community relationship to get through those problems.
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