New Sanford Police Chief Aims to Ease Racial Tensions

Sanford's interim Police Chief
Sanford's interim Police Chief Rick Myers

The interim police chief of Sanford, Florida the city force embroiled in controversy from the Trayvon Martin killing said that he wants to improve race relations between his officers and the African-American community.

Richard Myers, 58, took over the chief’s job on Thursday, replacing Bill Lee, who is on leave amid strong criticism for his handling of the Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon. The 17-year-old was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, who prosecutors say racially profiled Trayvon because he was Black.

The case has put Sanford’s population of 54,000, and its police force in the national spotlight. Myers says he wants to bring public confidence back.

“It’s apparent to me that there is some tension here between the African-American community and the police,” said Myers, who has met with officers, City Council members and local community leaders. “I think both the community and people of the police department want to improve that. I’m going to do whatever I can to help facilitate strengthening that connection.”

So far, Myers, who anticipates that he’ll be briefed on the details of the Trayvon Martin case in the next two weeks, says he’s not sure exactly how he’ll deal with racial issues.

He says he’s leaving some of that up to residents and officers who he says will be key in developing a plan of action.

Myers also plans to look into policies affecting neighborhood watch groups and their relationship with the police department.

“I’ve never heard of a neighborhood watch program that authorizes people to carry guns,” he said. “If you’re only being the eyes and ears of the police, why do you need protection?”

Trayvon was shot and killed as he was returning to a gated community. His family says he was followed and then killed because Zimmerman deemed him “suspicious” because the teen was Black and wearing a hoodie.

Zimmerman, 28, whose father is White and whose mother is an immigrant, says he shot Trayvon in self-defense.

He has been charged with second-degree murder.