TAMPA, Fla. (WTSP) –The findings of a year-long program that explored the fractured relationship between law enforcement and communities of color in Hillsborough County show a desire for more transparency and cultural competence, among others.
Over the last 12 months, the Community and Law Enforcement Workshops and Services program, also known as CLEWS, held seven workshops where adults, children and deputies worked side-by-side in an effort to break down long-standing barriers that have often resulted in a deep-seated mistrust on both sides.
“As long as we avoid talking about how we can all get along together on this earth, then we're going to continue to see situations unfortunately like we've seen across the country and even here locally,” said CLEWS program manager Fred Hearns.
A major catalyst for the CLEWS program was the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Levonia Riggins, an unarmed black man in Clair-Mel. Riggins was shot and killed by a Hillsborough County deputy in September of 2016. SWAT officials were in the process of serving a warrant. Officials said Riggins reached near his waistband, prompting the deputy to shoot.
Protests erupted after news of Riggins’ death spread, as did accusations of deputy misconduct. Many believe if law enforcement had better relationships with the community, incidents like this could be prevented.
Hearns said the aim of CLEWS is to help improve these relationships. More than 500 deputies and community members participated in the group’s seven workshops.
The results of the workshops will be discussed on Monday at 2 p.m. during a leadership retreat at Beulah Baptist Institutional Church on West Cypress in Tampa.
The event is free and open to the public.