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This is how the Orlando police recruits meet to better prepare them for service

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ORLANDO, Fla. – As part of his field training, Orlando Police Recruiter Wakens Leonard had to virtually meet with the people he will serve in his community before serving them.

“Community leaders, people who are activists with various organizations, LGBTQ +, Black Lives Matter, these organizations, business owners, community residents, Lake Nona, Rosemont, The Willows, Parramore,” said Leonard.

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One of the attendees at the Zoom meeting suggested that Leonard complete his reports outside of his patrol car instead of sitting in it so that he could be more accessible and people could come and talk to him.

Leonard said that now he does this every time he files documents and puts his laptop on the trunk of his car.

This is one of many suggestions and tips that emerged from the virtual meeting and that are required of every OPD recruit before taking to the streets.

“A lot of people want law enforcement agencies to be more transparent, and this is a great way to get residents involved,” said Leonard.

Chief Orlando Rolon asked for new recruits to meet for the first time in 2017, but had to pause them at the beginning of the pandemic. At the end of last year, he continued the meetings virtually.

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“Not only has we benefited citizens from learning more about the community, but we’ve also benefited citizens from learning about the professionalism our Orlando Police Department officers bring,” said Rolon. “They learn about the officers, they learn about the background, they learn that some of these officers have been there and have done so and come from areas where they have had problems growing up.”

Rolon said recruits had been hired from across the country, including big cities like New York and Chicago.

Leonard from South Florida just turned 23 and graduated from Law Enforcement Academy last year.

“Especially in August, when I came through the academy with everything that was going on in the summer, all the riots and protests, I was really a little nervous about going into law enforcement,” Leonard said. “I didn’t know what the perception would be like, an African American going to law enforcement, what would people see me as? But when I actually take to the streets, I haven’t had any really negative experiences here. I have had far more positive experiences than I can count. “

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Leonard said one of the virtual meetings drew his attention to a quick problem at Lake Nona.

He asked his supervisor if he could set up a traffic detail on Lake Nona Boulevard. His supervisor agreed.

“I’ve always thought that we as law enforcement will arrest bad guys and that’s all we do, but that’s absolutely not the case,” said Leonard. “I’ve probably done more community involvement things than I’ve done with actual criminals.”

Wakens and another newly hired officer, Heather Ferris, are currently starting their morning at The Willows on Silver Star Road – on foot.

“I had some children ask, ‘Are you going to hurt me, should I be afraid of you?'” Ferris said. “And I always tell them that we are here to protect them. And if they ever need us, we’ll pick them up. And I always tell them when they leave that they are important to me. I always leave a child with the words: “You are important to me and you are important to me.”

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Janet Smith