Derrick Diggs knew coming to Fort Myers would be a challenge. But he’d read the job posting, done his research and still came to the conclusion he was the right man to take the mantle of the city’s top cop. Though when he agreed to take the job, he quickly realized that the work was even greater than he expected.
“Certain things that were in my six-month plan had to be moved into the first 30 days,” he says. “My plans didn’t change, but the timetable did.”
Diggs is taking the reins of an embattled department, reeling from homicide rates that would make even the most notoriously dangerous cities take notice and a well-publicized arrest of a former NFL player who was falsely held for indecent exposure. The latter was the final nail in the coffin for his predecessor, the larger-than-life Doug Baker. Perhaps it’s an asset that Diggs, while not mild-mannered, is certainly measured in his demeanor.
On how his former job prepared him
“When I saw the opening, I thought this was a place that appeared to have similar problems as when I took over as the chief in Toledo (Ohio). Fort Myers is much smaller, but the problems are way outsized in comparison. I was able to successfully produce a 30 percent drop in crime with the smallest staff in the history of the department. Now, Toledo is the safest big city in Ohio.”
On why he retired in Toledo despite success
“We elected a new mayor with a different policing philosophy. He wanted policing to go back to the ’70s and ’80s when he was a cop. I knew that I wasn’t going to get the support needed to continue the successful work. So I could stay and watch what I’d done be taken apart or I could move on. After 37 years, I moved on.”
On what worked in Toledo and what could in Fort Myers
“The first thing was to build bridges to the various communities. There were deep divisions in the police department and also in the community itself. In no way were those divisions as severe as what we have here. I didn’t realize how bad it was coming in. … But the only way to change that is to build communities. We have to start somewhere. We’ll get the crime down. But the whole idea isn’t just to get it down but to keep it down. To do that you have to have that support, to have that trust from the community.”
On his vision for a progressive policing model
“There’s a high correlation between crime and poverty. There’s a lack of education. There are mental health issues. They aren’t related to the police department, but the police department has to deal with the results. But you can’t only focus on the law enforcement side. People need to know we are not there to arrest your kids. We want to support your kids. Our officers need to know that sometimes an arrest isn’t the best thing. It’s called discretion. And policing has to be tailored to the various communities. We are going to be aggressive with serious crime. But where we can, we want to be positive role models for the community, not just the people there during some negative circumstances.”
On the future of the Fort Myers Police Department
“I don’t have time to look backward about what was done in the past. I believe in looking forward to helping build a great community. I tell myself: Do what’s best for the community; then do what’s best for the police department; and, finally, do what’s best for the men and women who serve with me. We are going to greatly expand our technology. I want to have body cameras on every officer. It’s what’s best for the community and the officers. I want dashboard cameras in every patrol car. I have a strategic training plan so that officers have the best tools. (Crisis intervention training), training on implicit bias. I want to make sure that we are able to do the job.”