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Fort Myers leaders talk about stopping homicides
Fort Myers leaders talk about stopping homicides: The U.S. Department of Justice met with Fort Myers police and local pastors in an effort to build a partnership that will reduce crime. Video by Marisa Kendall/news-press.com
New Photo of Fort Myers Police Chief Doug Baker, for archives...
William Glover, Hospital Board

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Fort Myers police and community members walked away from a Thursday meeting full of hope for a year with less killing, but with few concrete plans to make that happen.

A U.S. Department of Justice team attended the meeting at Chief Doug Baker’s request to offer training and assistance to the police department. The focus was on creating a partnership between police and the local clergy, an idea supported by more than a dozen pastors and community leaders in attendance.

Thursday’s meeting was the latest in a series of Dunbar Neighborhood Watch meetings, community prayer vigils and police department social events where people came together to talk about stopping homicides in Fort Myers.

But the body count continued to climb, with 24 homicides last year. In 19 of those, no arrests have been made. The violence came to a head in early January when a man was shot and killed in a church-affiliated school parking lot while children were inside.

The Dunbar community has been having anti-violence meetings since at least 2001, when a local pastor tried to mobilize more than 30 church leaders.

Baker said the Department of Justice addressed what the police and community have been saying for months — homicides remain unsolved because community members don’t trust police enough to come forward as witnesses. The DOJ didn’t have an explanation as to why that is, or a suggestion on what the police department can do better.

“They just said something’s missing,” Baker said.

But they didn’t say what.

“We talked about building trust,” said Eugene Schneeberg, director of the Department of Justice Center for Faith Based Neighborhood Partnerships. “We talked about seeing each other as individuals and showing respect for one another.”

Baker wants more communication between his department and church leaders. He wants to give them information about crimes, and in return, he hopes to receive crime tips and feedback on the community’s perception of his officers.

“Clergy have undivided attention from large groups of people,” Baker said.

He also wants pastors to attend his police academy, which starts in March. That will help them understand police policy and procedures and better equip them to assist the police department, Baker said.

Baker said the church killing in January acted as a catalyst, inspiring local clergy to come together and fight the violence threatening their home territory — the church.

“People are afraid,” said William Glover, senior pastor at Mount Hermon Ministries. “We have to reclaim the places that are sacred.”

The pastors and community leaders will meet again Feb. 14 at the Quality Life Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

“We’re putting our hands to the plow,” Glover said, “and we’re hoping to make great inroads this year.”

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