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November 28, 2007
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Orlando gets its first female police chief

Demings joins a short list of black women to achieve the rank of chief of police in the United States

By Mark Schlueb
The Orlando Sentinel


Orlando, Fla. Chief Val Demings
(Photo/Orlando PD
)

ORLANDO Deputy Chief Val Demings was named the new chief of the Orlando Police Department on Tuesday, becoming the first woman to lead the agency.

But the 23-year veteran of the department isn''t the first person in the Demings household to hold the job. Her husband, Jerry Demings, was Orlando police chief from 1999 to 2002. She joins a short list of black women to achieve the rank of chief of police in the United States.

Mayor Buddy Dyer said Val Demings, who now leads the department''s patrol division, was "head and shoulders" above other candidates he considered for the job.

"Chief Demings is a no-nonsense cop. She knows how to get things done," Dyer said. "She''s a firm but fair leader who is able to get the best out of each and every one of the people that she commands. She''s one of those rare individuals that you come across who inspires everyone else around her."

The appointment, effective Dec. 17, comes as the city and Orange County struggle with a surge in violent crime. Demings, 50, said combating violent lawbreakers will be her main goal.

"The reduction of violent crime is my primary focus, and I will use every tool within my legal law-enforcement authority to ensure people living, working and visiting Orlando feel safe," Demings said. "We will be relentless in our effort to fight crime."

Demings, who will earn $139,000 a year as chief, was one player in a game of law-enforcement musical chairs that played out Tuesday. She replaces Chief Michael McCoy, who has run the department for the past five years.

McCoy is resigning to become public-safety director for Orange County, where he''ll oversee the chiefs in charge of the county fire department and the county jail. That job is currently held by Jerry Demings, who is leaving to run for Orange County sheriff. If Jerry Demings wins that race next fall, he and his wife would lead the two biggest law-enforcement agencies in Central Florida.

|"This is a tremendous opportunity for our family," Jerry Demings said. "We have a family that believes in service to the community."

McCoy, 55, said he loved running the department, where he spent most of his nearly 30 years in law enforcement. But he had to leave in less than a year or lose a portion of his retirement benefits. He is expected to receive a substantial pension city officials had not determined how much Tuesday on top of his new $150,000-a-year county salary.

He said he has been talking with Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty about the new job for several weeks. Crotty announced the appointment Tuesday afternoon, not long after Demings'' appointment was announced.

McCoy is the third former OPD chief to take the county''s public-safety-director job. County officials said McCoy''s administrative and budgetary skills are a plus, as are his contacts with local, state and federal law-enforcement agencies.

"We''re going to make Orange County the safest it can possibly be," McCoy said. "Your children and your family have got to be able to go to work and live and enjoy life without the threat of crime."

Val Demings has climbed through the ranks since serving as president of her class at the police academy, working in criminal investigations, intelligence, internal affairs, tactical operations and drug enforcement, among others.

The patrol division that Demings now leads is the department''s biggest, with more than 300 officers and civilian employees. It includes the front-line officers who respond to 911 calls.

She also led the ongoing Operation Delta, a crime sweep targeting street-level drug sales in Parramore that has racked up more than 230 arrests since early October.

A representative of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives was aware of only seven black female chiefs nationwide, including two in Florida, in West Palm Beach and North Miami. The others are in Detroit; Birmingham, Ala.; Fulton County, Ga.; Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Maywood, Ill.

Still, Demings said she doesn''t expect her race or gender to bring extra scrutiny because Orlando is a diverse city.

"I''ve grown up in the Orlando Police Department, I know the agency and I''ve been in this community for 24 years. It''s about qualifications," she said. "I think the citizens of Orlando are more concerned about crime and what''s going on in their particular communities, and that''s going to be my focus."

Well-liked in department

Though highly regarded in Orlando''s black community, Demings also is popular within the department.

OPD came under fire last year when Orlando Commissioner Daisy Lynum and her son accused the department of racial profiling, and McCoy was briefly pressured by black politicians to step down. Demings came to the department''s defense, saying it doesn''t target minorities.

Dyer said Tuesday that Demings is the perfect choice to send a tough-on-crime message.

"Today, we have a powerful new voice for that message," Dyer said. "And for the first time in our city''s history, it will be a woman''s voice."

Copyright 2007 Orlando Sentinel

Full story: Orlando gets its first female police chief






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