Sanford police want officers to gain trust of black community

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SANFORD, Fla. —

The Sanford Police Department spent Tuesday trying to repair decades of distrust from the black community that came to a head six months ago when police didn't immediately arrest Trayvon Martin's killer.

On Tuesday, Channel 9's Drew Petrimoulx rode along with two officers on a golf cart whose sole mission is repairing community relationships. And while residents said it's helping, some say there's still a long way to go.

Officers Josh Strobridge and Phil Nation are in week two of a pilot program that charges them with winning over the hearts and minds of residents in the historically black neighborhood of Goldsboro.

"I think they're doing a great job," said resident Brenda Whiton.

Whiton is a stroke victim who is confided to a wheelchair. The officers have been visiting her daily.

"To see a familiar face, it's been great for the community, and they let us know that," Strobridge said.

The officers had been patrolling the streets for six years, but under their new roles, they're no longer spending the bulk their time responding to emergency calls. They've also ditched their cruisers for golf carts.

Both officers said they prefer the carts to cruisers because they can really see and hear what's going on. They said it also makes them approachable as they ride through the community.

The difficult task is to gain trust in a community where rifts between residents and the police goes back decades. The tension boiled over early this year with anger over the Martin shooting.

From stories about police brutality to botched investigations, lifetime Sanford resident Bernard Burke said the community has plenty of reasons to be wary of police.

"I used to be out here and I seen police do some strange things," he said.

From the reaction of most residents on Tuesday, it was clear Strobridge and Nation are more than just two white cops policing a black neighborhood, said Petrimoulx.

"Everybody like Josh and them. Everybody," said one resident.

The Sanford Police Department is running a similar program in the downtown area.