Plant City police purchase faces opposition

PLANT CITY- Plant City council voted to approve the 2017-2018 budget this week, which included a $335,000 military tactical vehicle for the police department.

Council members approved the funding for the military vehicle in a unanimous 5-0 vote.

The vote was opposed by the Restorative Justice, a grassroots advocacy group based out of Hillsborough County.  Its mission is to create a restorative justice system opposed to a punitive one. The group’s co-founder, Angel D’Angelo, says there are issues occurring within the Plant City police force that need more attention.

“Aside from the fact that it’s militarizing the police and that’s problematic in itself, what really got to us is Police Chief Ed Duncan had taken away both body and dash cams from Plant City, due to the cost of implementation and maintenance,” D’Angelo said. “If our calculations are correct, it would cost about $65,000 to implement body and dash cams for all 70 police officers in Plant City.”

Angel D’Angelo, co-founder of Restorative Justice Coalition (Courtesy of Angeldangelo.com).

For months, members of the community have shown up to Plant City council meetings to speak about what they say is the police department’s lack of transparency. Fifteen people made statements regarding the lack of trust between the community’s citizens and police at the council’s most recent meeting.

Plant City Mayor Rick Lott was confronted by upset members of the community who were against the decision.

Before entering his vehicle he stopped and said, “I can’t believe you’d shout at me like this, after all I’ve done for you.”

The city council, mayor and police department were contacted but did not comment on the situation.

Issues with the Plant City Police Department surfaced earlier this year. On July 6, Plant City resident Jesus Cervantes called 911.  Cervantes was distressed and asking for help.

According to the police department, when officers approached the vehicle Cervantes reached for something, and the officer then fired his weapon – resulting in a fatal accident.

Cervantes’ family and friends were devastated. They were contacted by groups such as the Restorative Justice Coalition and Black Lives Matter, who began to investigate the incident. Because there are no body or dash cameras on the Plant City police force, many questions began to surface.  The activist groups released a list of demands to the police, including the call for body cams on police and an external investigation into the Cervantes shooting.

“The police department sent us a one-page letter that essentially said, ‘Screw you’,” said D’Angelo.

Although city council decided to purchase the military vehicle instead of cameras, those opposed to the vote are not giving up.

Restorative Justice Coalition’s “call to action” flyer (Courtesy of the Restorative Justic Coalition Facebook page). 

The militarization of police is an ongoing matter of contention across the country.  Earlier this year, the Trump administration renewed program 1033, which allows surplus military gear to be purchased by police departments.  Police forces across the country – including those at over 100 universities – have purchased military weaponry or vehicles.