Elected officials, community leaders and ordinary citizens expressed nothing but glowing reviews for the Gainesville Police Department at a public forum Monday evening at the Gainesville Municipal Court.
The purpose of the forum was to give the public a chance to share thoughts on the department with a team of assessors from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc.
There was a common thread throughout the hearing — transparency, efficiency and accessibility.
Former Chief of Police Frank Hooper noted the distinction of accreditation.
“The difference between an accredited agency and nonaccredited agency is night and day,” he said “It’s a philosophy that this agency has managed and operates by, and I think you’ll find that as you assess this department.”
Leading the assessment and presiding over the hearing were Chief John Letteny of Southern Pines, N.C., and Captain Richard Lane of Vero Beach, Fla.
Several different facets of the community were represented at the hearing.
Luis Santos-Rivas, from Gainesville State College, noted the department’s efficiency in connecting him to educational resources in the community.
Both state Rep. Carl Rogers and Sen. Butch Miller also made comments to the assessors.
“My experience as a businessperson and as a member of the community has been nothing but exemplary with this police force,” Miller said.
Several Gainesville City Council members spoke, including Myrtle Figueras.
“I’m so thrilled with this department. It’s not that we don’t have problems — we do have problems — but it’s the way we deal those problems,” she said.
J.P. Banks is the project coordinator for the Drug Free Coalition of Hall County.
He commended the department’s drug prevention and education measures.
“We’re very fortunate to have such a great working relationship that starts with the chief, but goes on down through the officers that we work with on a daily basis.”
And several of the speakers noted the department’s professionalism.
“Their collaboration is vitally important and always professional,” Banks said.
André Cheek said she spoke as a community person, who may not be an elected official, but is an involved citizen.
She commended the department’s community-based policing philosophy.
“When you look at a person in uniform, it can be intimidating,” she said. “But when you know the person inside the uniform, that makes the biggest difference.”
CALEA arrived in Gainesville on Monday to examine all aspects of the department’s policies and procedures, management, operations and support services.
The team will continue conducting their assessment at the department through Thursday.
Once their review is completed, they will report back to the full accreditation commission, which will then decide if the agency will be re-accredited for another three-year period.
The department asks for further public comment by phone, 770-297-5423, from 1-3 p.m. today.