OPD Chief Rolon reflects on agency’s response to demonstrations, hears concerns protesters

The Orlando Police Department (OPD) is now actively reviewing body-worn camera videos of each time pepper spray or gas was used on protesters over the last two weeks. 

“We have a sergeant who reviews those cases in addition to a sergeant who took the initial report, the manager that person reports to, then it goes to our training section to do a final review,” OPD Chief Orlando Rolon explained.  

Overall, Chief Rolon said he is proud of how his agency has handled protests. 

“Imagine this, working 16 hour days, working for eight days straight really, and not a single incident has surfaced or occurred where one of our officers has been questioned to the extent of where an internal investigation has been initiated,” Chief Rolon said. 

Now that things are settling down, Chief Rolon is taking a closer look at concerns expressed by protesters and community leaders regarding the department’s use of force policy. 

“There’s a lot of suggestions that have been made to include no chokeholds, this that and the other. We have never taught that, but we understand maybe there is an opportunity here to say in policy, 'You are not to use that technique,' so we’re drafting the language for it,” Chief Rolon explained. 

He said they are also taking another look at their policy regarding an officer’s duty to intervene if a colleague is using too much force. 

“That’s another thing we’ve been teaching and doing for a long time. We’re looking at the language of the policy to make sure that the policy reflects that,” Chief Rolon said.

The chief is also taking constructive criticism. 

“Earlier this week, received an email from a parent of a young man participating in the demonstrations relating some concerns,” said Chief Rolon, who asked that parent to have his teenager call him directly.  “He explained to me the entire experience that he had. He did mention some things that were great takeaways for me to now discuss with my executive staff as we manage for future demonstrations.”

Of note is how some of the officers' tactics and movements are being perceived by the protesters especially communication. 

“He felt that the officers were so focused on their task, that when people were actually asking legitimate questions or asking for direction, they were focused on their mission, not talking back to them,” Chief Rolon said. 

The teen also explained to Chief Rolon how he and protesters felt like they were being set up by officers at curfew time.

“Officers were trying to direct the crowds into areas where we knew we had control, we knew we had a lot of presence in order to facilitate path so that traffic would not become an issue,” Chief Rolon explained of OPD’s tactics. 

The marchers did not perceive it that way. 

“They felt the officers were trying to prevent them from escaping the curfew area that they were being set up for an arrest. That was not the case,” Chief Rolon said. 

He is taking his talk with this teen to heart. 

“We need to keep in mind how the crowds are interpreting our actions, and if there is an opportunity to be able to communicate,” Chief Rolon said. 

He is thankful for the conversation that he believes will help bridge the perceived gap between his officers and protesters.  The way that phone meeting with the teen ended, really touched Chief Rolon.

“He asked, 'Do you mind if I pray for you?' How beautiful was that? And he prayed," Chief Rolon said. 

Chief Rolon has invited that teenager, who is still in high school, to come to OPD headquarters to talk with his staff that is leading OPD’s protest response.  Chief Rolon plans to continue having meaningful conversations with protesters and community leaders to continue improving their relationship with the community.