Democrats believe they have found a rising star in Central Florida: Val Demings, the African-American former chief of the Orlando Police Department, who is running for Congress in 2016.
First, though, she will have to navigate the complicated national dialogue on police brutality and criminal justice, a conversation that has changed dramatically since Democrats first tapped the tough-on-crime Demings as a candidate for higher office.
When Demings first ran for Congress in 2012, discussion of her tenure leading the OPD tended to start and stop at one statistic: a 43.6 percent drop in violent crime from 2007 to 2011, according to FBI reports. But over the last year, a string of highly publicized shootings and violent arrests of African Americans by police has changed the criteria that voters and the media use to judge officeholders on law enforcement.
The growing focus on police misconduct highlights less agreeable aspects of Demings’s time helming the Orlando Police Department from 2007 to 2011.
The department has a long record of excessive-force allegations, and a lack of transparency on the subject, dating back at least as far as Demings’s time as chief. From 2010 to 2014, the department paid out more than $3.3 million in damages following at least 47 lawsuits alleging false arrest, excessive force, and other complaints against the department’s officers, according to WFTV. (Records about these cases and other allegations of police misconduct in Orlando are not centrally housed or publicized, and some lawsuits are still outstanding.)