SANFORD, Fla. - Nearly a year after the Trayvon Martin shooting controversy rocked Sanford, the city has finally found a new police chief that officials hope will turn things around.
Sanford hasn’t been the same since Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman early last year, and its police department took heavy criticism for not arresting Zimmerman right away.
Zimmerman claims the shooting was in self-defense, but a stand your ground hearing has not yet been held in the case.
Over the last few months, Sanford city leaders narrowed the search for a new police chief and two weeks ago, the finalists were questioned at a community meeting, where residents asked for a leader who could build trusted.
City Manager Norton Bonaparte said Cecil Smith is the one who can deliver, and he’s been offered the job.
Smith was the deputy chief of police in Elgin, Ill., which is about 40 miles from Chicago and much larger than Sanford. He spent 25 years with the department and 25 years in the U.S. Air Force National Guard. He’s also a graduate of the FBI Academy, Columbia College and Northwestern University.
“What I’ve heard at various community meetings is that some parts of the community do not have trust in the Sanford Police Department. Without that trust, the Sanford police cannot be truly effective,” said Bonaparte.
The new chief has to lead a police force that has been plagued by accusations of racism that boiled over with the Martin shooting.
“Cecil Smith stood out. He was the one almost all of them thought would be the best match for Sanford,” said Bonaparte. “The fact that he is African-American, I think, is a reality, but that’s not the factor that made it the high point. It was more his relationship with building trust in the community."
The Zimmerman-Martin case cost former chief Bill Lee his job. The city hopes to get an answer from Smith by the end of the week.
The salary being offered is $110,000 a year.