by Greg Angel | WTXL.Com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) – Friday, WTXL ABC27 spoke for the first time in-depth with new Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo about his vision for the department moving forward.
DeLeo, a 19 year veteran of law enforcement, was sworn in nearly a month ago as Tallahassee’s newest police chief. He previously served as Deputy Chief for the Plantation, Florida Police Department.
“This has been a month of learning. Right now I’m listening and learning,” Chief DeLeo said.
In his short tenure, he’s already hit the ground running.
“Part of what I’ve been doing, five or six times, I’ve gone out with officers and gone out and ridden along with them and gone out on calls for service and had the opportunity to interact with the public that way too,” Chief DeLeo said.
Chief DeLeo says he’s spent the bulk of his time learning the various aspects of Tallahassee Police Department; in addition to listening to department employees and community members alike.
“There’s a lot of really good talent here, really caring and dedicated people,” Chief DeLeo said. The chief pointed out being impressed by the various departments including the Internet Crimes Against Children task force and Victim’s Advocate Unit. He says they’re also looking to expand the youth sports programs.
During our one-on-one conversation, Chief DeLeo also addressed some of the bad. Chief DeLeo comes to Tallahassee Police Department not long after another round of scrutiny for officers. The latest coming just months ago after the release of a video showing the August 2013 arrest of a suspected drunk driver. Critics of the department saying officers went too far when arresting Christina West after she had crashed her van into a home in the Killearn neighborhood.
Her arrest made headlines across the country after her booking photo showed her badly bruised. She had several several broken bones in her face.
While a Leon County grand jury ruled there was not enough to file charges against the officers involved, four department employees were suspended for various amounts of time. Just weeks after the video’s release, former chief, Dennis Jones, announced his early retirement.
We asked Chief DeLeo about those concerns some residents may have.
“First step is to be open,” Chief DeLeo said. “If you’re not willing to listen and not willing to talk about what the issues are and what the people’s concerns are then you’ve already lost. The main thing I’ve been trying to do when I get out is to listen to people.”
That, he says, is his top priority as he settles in. Evaluating where the department is and where to go next. He says while he may have years of experience elsewhere he’s not looking to transform the department into what it may not be.
“This is not a re-creation of my former agency,” Chief DeLeo said. “This is still the Tallahassee Police Department. This is still the Tallahassee community.”
Chief DeLeo also says he’s here for the long haul.
“This is a big, long-term commitment,” Chief DeLeo said. “This is not me looking for the next job. This isn’t a retirement job. This is relocating a family. Relocating to a community we’ll be involved in.”
Chief DeLeo says his wife of 20 years and their two young kids will move to the Tallahassee area at the end of the school year.
Don’t expect to see any major changes in the near future. While his to-do list may be growing, including filling job vacancies, including that of Deputy Chief, DeLeo says he is continuing to listen and evaluate the department before making any significant changes.