Panel meets to discuss relationship between Sanford Police and community

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SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. —

The city of Sanford held its first meeting Tuesday to try to restore the public's trust in its police department.

The city has been working to improve its image following Trayvon Martin's shooting death in February.

The Blue Ribbon Panel, created by the city, is made up of people who range from pastors to business owners.

City Manager Norton Bonaparte said the police department can only be as effective as its relationship with the community.

"What I heard is that there was a lack of trust between some segments of the Sanford community with the police department. We want to address that, we want to change that," said Bonaparte.

When unarmed teen Trayvon Martin was shot and killed at close range and his killer was only questioned and released, the community's relationship with the Sanford Police Department turned from tense to tumultuous.

It is now the job of Andrew Thomas to repair the damage that's been building for years.

"Tonight is the start of the process," said Thomas.

He was hired six years ago to work through issues with the police department.

"We're talking about a building process. Trust is not going to walk in the door tonight," Thomas said.

When asked about the reputation of the Sanford Police Department, many people hesitated to comment.

"Do you trust the police department?" asked WFTV reporter Lori Brown.

"I trust them. I hope that they are educated enough to deal with certain issues," answered resident Hollis Henry.

Henry said it is crucial that the police department earn back the trust of its citizens, because they have no other choice for protection.

The panel plans to continue to meet for the next five or six months, and it will issue specific recommendations to the city manager.