South Florida leaders, police participate in Hope and Healing forum

SUNRISE, FLA. (WSVN) - 7News is taking part in the Hope and Healing initiative at Thursday’s town hall meeting to build trust between South Florida’s communities and the police who protect and serve them.

Residents, community leaders and law enforcement officials are scheduled to have an open discussion at the town hall meeting at the Faith Center, along Northwest 95th Avenue, in Sunrise.

The idea began with a conversation between two friends about how they could improve the relationship between residents and law enforcement. “The healing, the communication, the respect, that’s what we’re hoping to accomplish,” said Broward Sheriff Scott Israel.

Israel and Faith Center Bishop Henry Fernandez are centering the forum around race relations and the police.

“We in law enforcement make mistakes,” Israel said. “We’re not a perfect entity. I’m admitting that as the chief law enforcement officer in Broward County.”

Fernandez believes it goes back to respect and trust. “We cannot ignore the fact that some of these officers are not respecting the citizens,” he said. “I really do believe there is a huge distrust when it comes to law enforcement and the community. Quite honestly, a lot of the black communities will find that you have majority of white police officers, police in their streets.”

Israel agreed with Fernandez and said this issue is not only a South Florida concern but a national one. “We have men and women in the United States of America that are policing communities that they’re scared to be in,” he said.

Since police officers were killed in targeted attacks in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Israel and Fernandez have made it their mission to keep that violence from occurring at home. “To accomplish that, it’s going to be a long road, but at least it’s a start,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez even encouraged his congregation to attend the Hope and Healing meeting. “I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said one church member.

Another said she hopes for clarity. “Positivity and basically an understanding,” she said.

Israel is taking a three-pronged approach to address the problems by:

-Expanding diversity on the force
-Training officers to de-escalate conflicts
-Starting a panel for citizens to evaluate new deputies

“There’s nothing that we do as an agency, more important than hiring the right people,” Israel said. “I think that a civilian might get a feel for somebody and only they can say, ‘I want to be policed by that person.'”

“We’ve got to start this conversation to have mutual respect. That’s the bottom line,” Fernandez said. “If not, how many more of our black boys and girls are going to die by the hands of police officers?”

Israel also hopes that the forum will help inform the public on what to do if they feel an officer crosses the line.

The event is set to begin at 6:30 p.m. and will be streamed live on wsvn.com.

Copyright 2017 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.