CRESTVIEW — Central Crestview residents shared a frank but amiable discussion with Crestview Mayor David Cadle, Police Chief Tony Taylor and Fire Chief Tony Holland during a July 6 public safety forum hosted by the Carver-Hill Memorial and Historical Society.
More than 30 residents filled the seats at the Carver-Hill School Center cafeteria for the evening discussion, which centered on how the city's public safety agencies can better serve the community.
Chief Taylor said though his agency has 51 sworn law enforcement officers, "that's not enough!"
In addition to the city's nearly 25,000 residents, "we police upwards of 150,000 people a day," Taylor said. "We police not just the Crestview population, but our visitors as well," including those who pass through town heading to and from south Okaloosa County beach communities.
Finding qualified applicants for the Crestview Police Department is not a problem unique to the Hub City, Taylor said.
"Across the nation, police forces are having trouble attracting young people," he said. "Out of 10 who apply, we might have one who meets the high standards we expect. We're not going to lower our standards, because you deserve the best we can provide."
City Councilman Shannon Hayes raised a concern that the department currently has no black officers. Taylor agreed, saying, "We're not getting enough African-Americans in the (police) academies, because policing is not an attractive career field."
Taylor said when he speaks to the region's police academies at Northwest Florida State College and the George Stone Technical Center in Pensacola, "out of all those people I only see one or two black students."
"I can't do my job properly if my agency doesn't mirror our community," Taylor said. "I need the community's help in finding potential police officers."
Taylor said he has met with black religious leaders, community activists and the local NAACP, all of whom have been supportive of the police department's efforts to recruit minority officers, but have found few interested applicants.
"We're trying to break barriers down," Hayes said. "We want to work together to solve these issues. He's (Taylor) not perfect — nobody's perfect — but he's trying to get things done. Talk to him."
It's a similar dilemma in the fire department, Holland said.
"I'm in the same boat as Chief Taylor," he said. "I have one African-American firefighter. Young blacks don't want to be firefighters."
Hayes also encouraged the audience to speak with Taylor and Holland when they have concerns.
"If you're not saying anything, they figure everything's alright," he said. "If you see something wrong, don't just complain to your neighbor. Call them (the chiefs)! You're paying for them."
"We want to do the right thing," Cadle, who oversees the city's Public Safety department.
"We want to make everybody feel safe. When you call for the police or the Fire Department, we want to be there as fast as possible with the best people as possible."