9 Investigates

'We have to do a better job telling our story’: Orlando police chief talks use of force, police unions and proposed policy changes

ORLANDO, Fla. — 9 Investigates went in-depth with the Orlando police chief about specific policy changes being considered, use of force and making it easier to fire problem officers.

In that interview with Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray, Chief Orlando Rolon said he’d consider making all use-of-force incidents, including those not involving weapons, available for public review.

Rolon said what happened 1,500 miles away in Minneapolis eroded public trust with all police agencies.

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“Absolutely. We have been working hard for many years across the country to bridge the gap and build the relationship with the citizens,” Rolon said. What happened there will set us back for many years.”

Trust has been tested in Orlando before when it comes to issues of race. 9 Investigates reported extensively on calls for Officer Robert Schellhorn to be fired after he called people “savages” outside of the Parliament House in 2017.

It’s not the only time he used the term. He also called black people “savages” and athletes “thugs” on Facebook, but union protections kept him on the force.

“As a result of that, our policy has been modified to where it specifically tells our officers if their actions like that are repeated, they can be punished up to termination,” Rolon said.

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Now, more policies are under review. The chief told 9 Investigates that he’s looking into an outright ban on chokeholds. When it comes to use of force, OPD officers are already expected to de-escalate, but they are looking into adding language making it a clear requirement.

Rolon said he also wants to counter information that lacks context. A website that aggregates data about police violence lists Orlando as the fourth deadliest city for police encounters per capita, but it doesn’t provide details about what led to those shootings.

9 Investigates reviewed every deadly OPD-involved shooting from 2013 to the present and found in all of them, officers either had a vehicle driving toward them, a weapon pointed at them, they believed a weapon was present, they could hear one or saw someone actively shooting other people, like at Pulse.

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“We have to do a better job telling our story,” Rolon said.

When it comes to weeding out problem officers, with union protections and the Florida Officer’s Bill of Rights, Channel 9 asked Rolon what he will do to move changes forward.

“I think we need a national standard, that gives consistency to all law enforcement agencies,” Rolon said. “It has to be fair for the officers serving our citizens but also meet the expectations of the citizens we serve.”

Since use of force can range from a fist to a baton, Taser or gun, Rolon said he is open to the idea of making all response to resistance reviews public. The agency has already put a lot of information about use of force and racial equity online at this new website.

Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.

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