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Sarasota Residents Call To Defund Police After Use-Of-Force Report

Protesters hold signs including some that call for the defunding of police.
Julio Ochoa/WUSF Public Media
At a South Tampa Black Lives Matter protest in June, protestors called for the police to be defunded. At a Sarasota City commission meeting this week, two residents echoed the call.

At a Sarasota City commission meeting this week, two people called for the police department to be defunded.

Their demands came after the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that more than 80% of the department's 138 active officers had filed over 1,200 use-of-force reports since January 2018.

Resident Jimi DePriest said tax dollars should not go to an organization that harasses the community’s already marginalized members.

“It sickens me that money which could be used to provide food, education, healthcare, and housing to members of this community in need, all things which would actually alleviate cycles of crime, is going towards weaponry used to murder and maim innocent people,” DePriest said.

“Instead, there have been countless deaths and brutalization at the hands of the police across the country, and Sarasota has not been immune.”

Rachel Griffith, a former resident who now lives in Bradenton, agreed.

“We have none of these things that we know makes our community better,” Griffith said. “Instead, we have cops on every corner, we have cops in our schools, we have cops in the hospitals, we have cops at our gas stations, we have cameras in our neighborhoods - and these are our tax dollars. We're paying a very, very, very heavy price for these things that we did not ask for.”

According to Griffith, the city commission wants the community to believe the police are their friends and allies, but, in reality, they are not.

“We know that the police, they beat and they kill,” Griffith said. “You know, every time that they do, the blood is on the hands of the city commission because they give them money every single time.”

Citing the department's “Officer Peer Group Analysis,” the Herald-Tribune reported that between January 1, 2018 and June 18 of this year, “32 officers had 10-20 incidents, six officers had 20-30, three officers had 40-50 and one officer — Paul Gagnon — racked up 57 uses of force.”

But city manager Tom Barwin told commissioners that officers are required to file a report anytime an arrest becomes more physical than handcuffing a compliant person.

“To the officers’ credits, they have written these reports; to the Sarasota Police Department's credit, they're required,” he said. “So the fact that the officers are writing them, and they're available to the public, reflects our transparency.”

Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino wrote an editorial responding to the report.

“Our policy is much broader than many law enforcement agencies across the country,” DiPino wrote. “I know of one agency that only documents use of force when someone is injured.”

In the Sarasota Police Department, every officer must document the force they use, sometimes causing one incident to have multiple forms attached.

She said reporting even the most minimal use of force ensures accountability.

The Herald-Tribune also reported “11 instances of an officer subduing a subject by placing his knee on their neck.”

DiPino said there were no complaints or reports of injuries in these cases, with the exception of an internal investigation that she initiated to address the arrest of Patrick Carroll.

Sarasota officer Drusso Martinez was seen in a video placing his knee on Carroll’s neck during his arrest on May 18, one week before the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis after the use of the same approach.

Alysia Cruz is the WUSF Stephen Noble news intern for the fall 2019 semester. She earned her Bachelor’s degree at the University of South Florida in Communication and is now enrolled at USF St. Petersburg, pursuing her Master’s in Digital Journalism & Design concentrating on food writing.
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