By Henry Pierson Curtis
The Orlando Sentinel
ORLANDO, Fla. — Val Butler Demings embraced her past and the future Thursday in a ceremony marking her new job as Orlando's 36th chief of police.
Hundreds of city residents, ministers and cops turned out to cheer as the city's first woman chief in 133 years formally took command of the Orlando Police Department.
"Men and women of OPD ... it's our time," Demings said from the podium of the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center. "Until you are given the opportunity, the world does not know your potential."
And then the 23-year police veteran thanked her parents.
Noting that her mother cleaned houses and her father repaired them, she said they raised her "to look beyond present circumstances" to work for a better day. She and her staff are now charged with restoring peace to the city's most troubled neighborhoods.
Mayor Buddy Dyer, who selected Demings in November to replace Chief Mike McCoy, described her as "a no-nonsense cop who knows how to get things done." The description sounded as though it came directly from officers under her command.
Demings, 50, previously ran the department's patrol division, but she has worked in or supervised criminal investigations, intelligence, internal affairs, tactical operations, drug enforcement and other units.
Just this week, she boosted the number of uniform officers on the street in a break with tradition.
She closed the city's undercover drug unit and is reassigning its members, who made 83 arrests last year compared with 716 arrests by the uniformed drug squad. Plans are to create a second uniformed drug unit to put more pressure on street-level drug-dealing and related crime.
Speaking about why officers join the department, she said applicants give the same reason she gave 23 years ago for wanting to be a cop. They want to improve the quality of life in the communities they protect.
"Orlando, I challenge you to make a difference whenever and however you can," Demings said to the audience. She cited her religious faith in the task ahead, saying, "In closing, to God be the glory."
The 9 a.m. ceremony gave McCoy the opportunity to say goodbye to an agency he all but joined in the cradle.
"It's a boy for McCoy," was how word of his birth on Jan. 28, 1952, at the old Orange Memorial Hospital was broadcast to Orlando's few radio patrol cars, according to McCoy's sister, Mary P. Russell. Their father, Francis J. McCoy, was a World War II veteran and the department's only cop at the time with a heavy New York accent.
On the day McCoy turned 18, records show he became an Orlando police cadet. Three years later, he was sworn in as a police officer on his 21st birthday.
He retired in December to become Orange County public safety director.
He chose Thursday to speak one last time on his policing philosophy that calls for officers to treat everyone with dignity and respect.
And in closing his 30-year Orlando police career, he noted the similarities between his family members present and the agency he led.
"I have been so proud to be part of your lives," McCoy said. "And with that I believe I am 10-7 [out of service] and God bless you."
Copyright 2008 Orlando Sentinel
New Orlando police chief officially takes over