Under the pavilion at Sand Point Park at the north end of Titusville Monday, Police Chief John Lau, Mayor Dan Diesel and City Manager Scott Larese fielded questions from people on what community policing is, what it is not, and how it impacts residents.
"Community policing is nothing new," said Lau at Monday's forum, organized by the Titusville Police Department and the North Brevard Democratic Club. “All it is is building a relationship. You get to know John Lau and the officers and we get to know you.” Lau emphasized community policing wasn't something that could be assigned to one unit or certain officers in the department. "Community policing is misunderstood. It’s a concept and an attitude and it’s something you have to practice," Lau added. "We want everybody in the department doing it." Diesel said that, to him, "community policing just means communicating."
He sees Melbourne, where there are monthly meetings between cops and the public, as an example for Titusville to follow. “It’s simply being there and communicating," Diesel said. "Where is there? Wherever you need to be.”
Lau echoed Diesel's sentiments and said he expects community meetings to be organized in the future but believes the impetus should be on the public to organize and hold the meetings. "It's imperative to the success of the meetings that it’s not run by the city, otherwise it’s just another government thing run by the city," he said. "This should be run directly by the citizens."
Monday's meeting touched on several topics as the public asked questions of the officials. Citizens worried about what police can do to help with issues ranging from homelessness to mental health and drugs.
Lau said officers' hands are often tied when it comes to those issues.
Using the Baker Act to get somebody into mental health treatment can only be done under very specific circumstances, he said. Other times, state statute requires an arrest, he added. The Florida Mental Health Act, better known as the Baker Act, permits people with mental illness to be held, voluntarily or involuntarily, in a mental health facility for up to 72 hours if the person is deemed to be a threat to themselves or others. When asked how stimulus funds to the city could be used to bolster community policing, Larese said it remains to be seen how those funds will ultimately be distributed. "We don’t know how and what we will use the money on right now. There's been a lot of speculation on what it might be used for, but it remains to be seen," Larese said. "Ultimately it has to be used on things related to COVID."
North Brevard Democratic Club president Cathy Riley said she felt the meeting went positively and that there is a lot to be learned on both sides from these types of forums.
"One of the things they brought up that was especially good was that it's a two-way street. They want to communicate with us, but we also have to want to communicate with them," she said. Although she knows there are no easy or quick solutions to the issues facing Titusville, she said she has hope that things can always improve.
"I think these problems permeate all cities at all times," Riley said. "Each of us has a duty to do something in a small way to alleviate the problems and if we do that, then they can get better."