ORLANDO – On Aug. 19, the Orlando Police Department, as part of its community involvement efforts, held a Kicks 4 Guns program at the Orlando Baptist Church, asking people to turn in their weapons in return for gift certificates.
The effort was judged to be a success, since 135 guns were received and, Orlando Police Chief Paul Rooney noted, those guns were taken off the streets.
That’s an important thing to consider, Rooney said, as he pointed that one of his top priorities when he became Orlando’s new police chief was to ensure that his officers are safe as they patrol the City Beautiful’s streets.
“A very high priority for me is officer safety,” Rooney said. “Unfortunately, in the first six months of this year, we’ve had more officers killed than in the last 20 years. It’s very disturbing.”
This morning, Rooney joined with his officers and Mayor Buddy Dyer at the Orlando Police Dpeartment headquarters on South Hughey Avenue to provide the city with Orlando PD’s annual “End of Year Review” presentation, an overview of 2011 and the department’s focus for 2012.
“This isn’t about Paul Rooney,” the chief said. “This is about the Orlando Police Department. A lot of work went into this year in review. To me, it’s like a report card. We’re going to hear about the good and the bad and what we need to do to get better.”
As Rooney noted, his department made some progress in 2011. Violent crime was down by 7.6 percent in 2011 compared to 2010.
“Fighting crime, that is what we do,” Rooney said. “We are crime fighters, and I think we do that well.”
On the negative side, though, property crimes rose by 6.4 percent this year.
“Property crimes are on the increase,” Rooney said, adding that this area would be a focus for improvements in 2012.
But Rooney also noted that he would continue to push to ensure his officers are as safe and well prepared as they can possibly be when they’re responding to a crime scene, so there will hopefully be no more “fallen heroes” – officers killed in the line of duty. That includes those killed by gunfire.
In addition to hosting events like Kicks 4 Guns to get more dangerous weapons off the streets, Rooney said he adopted a mandatory body armor policy for his officers, because he believes ballistic vests save lives.
Since 1987, he noted, 3,127 police officers have been saved because they were wearing body armor, and today, all first responders are required to wear police-issued body armor while in uniform.
“I decided to make it mandatory for all first responders to wear that vest,” the chief said. “We are encountering more violent criminals on the streets.”
Rooney, a 24-year veteran of the Orlando PD, was running the Patrol Division when he was chosen to replace retiring Chief Val Demings. He noted that when he was sworn in last June, requiring the ballistic vests to be worn was his first act as chief. And that same week, it proved to be a critical factor when four officers responded to the Red Carpet Inn looking for the suspect in a bank robbery, who opened fire at them from his motel room when they got to the scene.
“Four of my officers had been shot at while at the Red Carpet Inn,” Rooney said. “One of the officers told me he could feel it whizzing by his head. That could easily have been another victim. This is why I am very passionate about officer safety.”
Florida, he noted, is tragically second only to Texas when it comes to the number of police officers killed in the line of duty, which is why this issue means so much to him.
It’s also why they hold community events like Kicks 4 Guns, Rooney said, to involve the entire city of Orlando in the fight against crime.
“We have some challenges, and we can’t do it without the community,” he said. “We have to have the help of the community.”
For those patrolmen struggling to cope with the emotional turmoil of handling this intense and stressful job, the OPD Chaplain Program is available to meet the spiritual and crisis needs of the officers, their families, and the department’s personnel, said Andrew Wade, the senior chaplain.
“Our primary purpose is to address the needs of our officers,” he said, adding that it’s done by a volunteer staff of eight ecumenical clergy members.
“We are on call 24 hours a day,” he said.
The Year in Review 2011 drew praise from Dyer, who noted the sharp drop in violent crime.
“We want to build on these partnerships and make sure Orlando is the safest city in the nation,” Dyer said.
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