ORLANDO, Fla. — In 2007, Val Demings became the first woman to lead the Orlando Police Department. Less than a decade later, she stood on the stage at the Democratic National Convention as a featured speaker. Now, the congresswoman is on the shortlist of candidates to be Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate.
Channel 9 investigative reporter Christopher Heath spoke with Demings about her career and how her experience in law enforcement in Central Florida could both help — or hinder — her chances of becoming a vice presidential pick.
If Biden does choose Demings, she would become the first African American woman ever selected as a presidential running mate.
“It is absolutely an honor, and these are the kind of opportunities that I want every boy and girl who are watching no matter the color of their skin or how much money they or their parents have or where they live that in this country, they are supposed to live the American dream,” Demings said.
Growing up in northeast Florida, Demings said she was raised in a two-bedroom, wood-frame house with her mother working as a maid and her father as a janitor.
Now she’s in her second term in Congress and has emerged as a leading voice within the party, being selected as house manager in the impeachment trial.
She is also leading the House’s push for criminal justice reform and increased accountability from law enforcement, saying reporting of use of force data should be national and mandatory.
“Why not have a national database that reports especially misconduct of excessive force that was sustained within the agency or criminal charges were moved forward?” Demings said.
Demings led the 600 sworn officers of the Orlando Police Department for 3 1/2 years.
In that time, OPD faced its fair share of complaints of excessive force and even a federal lawsuit. That case included a federal jury awarded an 84-year-old man $880,000 after his neck was broken by an officer.
“Did I have some moments that I wish did not happen? Of course we did,” Demings said. “But what I do know is that I gave it my all as chief of police and that when I retired on June 1 of 2011, Orlando was a stronger and safer community.”
Demings said her record, while not perfect, represents a balancing act that all chiefs face between supporting their officers and accountability.
“I needed to know the truth as the chief of police, and we were able to get to the bottom of some things and separate those individuals from the department,” she said.
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