(TMU) – With the country awash in protests against police brutality and demands for greater accountability to civilians, one would think that police departments across the country would be treading a bit more carefully – especially in regards to officers accused of misusing force or using excessive force on the people they are ostensibly meant to serve.
But for one police organization in Florida, it seems that no amount of controversy will keep them from hiring any officers – and specifically those accused of misconduct or abuse of authority under color of law.
As demonstrators took to the streets of cities large and small across the country for a second weekend in a row on Saturday, the Brevard County chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police posted a message on Facebook addressed to the “Atlanta 6” and “Buffalo 57” with a recruitment message.
The “Atlanta 6” were arrested last Wednesday following allegations of using excessive force against citizens during a protest the prior Saturday. Five of the officers were booked on felony charges. In video footage of the incident, officers can be seen smashing the windows of a vehicle, pulling a woman out of a car, and using a taser on a man.
The “Buffalo 57” were the officers who resigned en masse after two officers faced disciplinary measures after throwing 75-year-old Martin Gugino to the ground, causing blood to pour from the elderly man’s ear.
Video of both incidents scandalized viewers across the globe and offered clear proof that law enforcement officers in the U.S. were seemingly beyond control – but for the Brevard County F.O.P., these are precisely the men they hope to be “hiring” in the near future.
In the Facebook post that has since been deleted the police association wrote:
“Lower taxes, no spineless leadership, or dumb mayors rambling on at press conferences… Plus… we got your back!”
In a separate post that had also been deleted, the organization offered to hire officers from the Minneapolis Police Department, whose brutal killing of unarmed 46-year-old Black man George Floyd turned the city into the epicenter of nationwide unrest and led to demands that the department be defunded and dismantled.
“Minneapolis officers… we will not disband our agencies or give in… we are hiring in Florida,” the post read.
Hundreds of angry Facebook users responded to the posts, with many suggesting that the posts offer proof of how police have gone rogue and should be defunded.
“You supporting police brutality and offering this state as a safe haven for bad cops will not be tolerated. This is why police should be defunded and disbanded,” one comment read.
“Police unions like YOU are at the root of the problem. How dare you! Your days of abusing the people you are sworn to protect ARE NUMBERED,” another comment read.
Local law enforcement officials were also quick to denounce the posts as tone-deaf and offensive. Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey took to the social network to respond to the FOP, calling the posts “extremely distasteful and insensitive to current important and critical issues that are occurring across our country.”
“The ‘Brevard County F.O.P.’ page and organization has no official affiliation with the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office and was not authorized in any capacity by me or our agency to recruit or comment on our behalf!!,” the sheriff added.
However, even these comments were blasted by local residents who pointed out that Brevard County F.O.P. President Bert Gamin has been employed by the sheriff’s department for 26 years and currently holds the rank of lieutenant. Some commented that the sheriff’s note only highlighted how unaccountable officers had become.
In comments emailed to Florida Today, Lt. Garmin was unapologetic about the post and his attempt to reach out to his brothers in blue in Buffalo and Atlanta, who he defended as having “legal authority” in both cases of misconduct.
“At the time the warnings were provided, the citizens were already breaking the law,” Garmin wrote. “Those citizens chose to disregard the warnings. It led directly to escalations and confrontations with the police. When we issue lawful commands/warnings, citizens have a responsibility to comply. The reality is failure to comply leads to escalation.”
Tod Goodyear, a spokesman for the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, told CNN that the department was in the process of determining what, if any, policies Garmin may have violated.
“Although we find the comments he made disturbing, there are still some protections provided by the constitution on free speech,” Goodyear said. “If there was a violation of policy, I’m sure it will be dealt with.”
Over the past several years as incidents of police violence have grown more high-profile in cities like Ferguson, Baltimore, Minneapolis, and others, union-like organizations representing law enforcement like the Fraternal Organization of Police have come under fire for aggressively defending the rights of their members to get away with all sorts of misconduct while blocking attempts at reforming troubled police agencies.
In many cases, the police officers’ associations’ ability to defend their members has led to cops with clear patterns of abuse having de facto immunity, often with fatal consequences.
“By continuing to elect people who stand for those values, it more deeply entrenches the break between the community and the police,” said Karen Sheley, the head of the Police Practices Project for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, told New York Times. “It makes it far more difficult for reform efforts to go forward.”
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