PPD Chief Eric Randall interview, October 2021

By Jeremy Morrison

Inweeky: So, how long exactly have you been on the job? Four months?

Chief Eric Randall: What day are we in — you know what? You’re right, almost exactly four months. Yeah, it’ll be four months tomorrow.

Inweeky: What’s your major take away after four months?

Randall: You know, four months, it’s been a great opportunity to be here, to be back here in the city of Pensacola, especially in the capacity as a police chief, being able to lead the fine organization that I have here. The men and women of this organization are top notch. One thing I learned, first hand and fast-quick, is the amount of dedication that the men and women of this organization has put forth to the community — you know, the dedication they have to make sure this community is the vibrant community that it is, and understand the importance of public safety, and our role, the important role that we play in making sure the city is safe and is a vibrant environment, not only for the citizens, but for the visitors as well. So, that’s been very, very critical. I’ve inherited a magnificent organization that is ready to move forward in a number of ways, in all instances of 21st Century policing, you know, as technology takes over and things of that nature.

Inweeky: Explain that concept. You know, because people say 21st Century policing, and it’s almost become shorthand for something —

Randall: So, yeah, 21st Century policing is when you’re taking a look at, you know, building off the pillars of the presidential report back in 2014, 2015, what it looked at. You know, in a number of areas of policing, there were opportunities for us to grow and improve. Retention, training, officer wellness, technology, community engagement, police legitimacy, which is key, because a police department that is legitimate means it is engaging with the community, the community espouses to allowing the police to be the police, because one of the things you’ve got to understand is all the powers that we derive from law enforcement, in public safety, come from the people. You know, we wear the badge and we swear an oath to the constitution of the United States of America, the Constitution of the State of Florida, but that opportunity that’s presented, that’s key, comes from the people, the people of the community that allow us to perform.

And, you know, you hear me say it a lot of times: we do nothing without the involvement of the community and the collaboration and empowerment from the involvement of the community, because the police are the community and the community are the police and we have to work together and make sure that fabric is woven together to make sure that we’re doing the things we need to do. And when you incorporate the community into anything there are some significant, long lasting, sustainable ideas and solutions that get involved, that come to fruition, so I think that’s very, very important when you talk about 21st Century policing. So, it encompasses a lot of stuff, but it’s about the future of policing and when you think about technology, when you think about next-generation 911, being able to text to 911, send video to 911. So, it’s taking all aspects of 21st Century thinking and is incorporating it into 21st Century policing.

Inweeky: And how far is this department down that road, of incorporating all these things?

Randall: The department is well off down the road. We utilize a lot of different things. You know, we talk about police legitimacy’s roots in being able to explain the why. That book right there from Simon Sinek always talks about the ’why.’ So, giving people the sense of belonging when we respond to calls for service or interact with the community we’re always explaining why — why we are there, why was there this type of response, why did this happen. So, we’re always starting with the ‘why.’ The other part of that, too, is internally taking care of your people, treating our employees with respect and dignity. Because when an employee feels internally in an organization that they’re well-respected and treated with respect and dignity, that replicates to their interactions with the community and giving people a voice, you know, interacting with the community. Listening, and having every opportunity to listen to the community. Take in the suggestions and things of that nature. So, that’s one aspect of it.

Inweeky: You arrived kind of in the middle of, you know, a community discussion — you know, at a time the community, the citizens were hyper engaged with the police department. What has grown out of that discussion? And is that discussion still ongoing?

Randall: Well, I will tell you, in policing, in particular in Pensacola, and since I’ve been here, the discussion around policing and what policing should look like, especially in the city of Pensacola is always ongoing. Every time I’m out in the community, every time an officer is out in the community, there are opportunities to have those discussions one-on-one, grassroots discussions about what policing should be doing, about what policing should look like — that’s important, because when I talk about giving the community the voice, that’s the voice I’m talking about, the voice of, you know, being from the outside looking in, providing feedback and understanding on where people would like their police department to go.

So, over the last several months I spent a lot of time outside of the office, in the community, engaging with the officers, taking the officers with me to different things, meeting different people, doing what I call ‘pop-ins,’ poppin’ in, you know, in ordinary places, unscheduled, unscripted, to get the true sense of what’s going on, attending various different events of various different groups, meeting with different people, and getting a lot of different perspective and feedback on how the department is doing and what we can be doing better. And I’ll tell you, it’s interesting when you talk to people you think a focus would be one thing, but a focus could be completely different when you get out and talk to people. I receive a lot of emphasis and have a lot of conversations with members of the community about traffic, the ways people drive, the number of accidents and things of that nature, so over the last 60 days we have taken a really keen focus on traffic safety.

In August we had a big intoxicated-driver checkpoint, and a number of operations for the last two months we have been doing very specialized enforcement when it comes to traffic enforcement because we talk about having a voice, the community having a voice — that’s what I’ve been hearing a lot of lately, is about being able to enforce traffic, the speeding, the accidents, just the number of crashes, the significant number of crashes and things of that nature, and the number of impaired drivers we may encounter.

So, when we talk about 21st Century policing, talking about the ‘why,’ and giving the community that voice and listening to the community and having that engagement, that’s what I’m hearing. And that’ changes with time, it depends what’s going on. So, a big conversation has been around that. There’s been a lot of talk about the direction of the department, police reform and things of that nature, so we’re always looking at best practices and opportunities to do different things.

Inweeky: Do you find the topic of conversation, or the biggest needs or whatever, changes depending on where in the city you are?

Randall: That’s a very good question, because priorities for one neighborhood may be different priorities for another neighborhood. One neighborhood may be more focused on loud music, where another neighborhood may be focused on speeding cars, where another neighborhood may be focused on burglaries or people trespassing. So, those are a lot of variables that you have to take into account and when you have a department like PPD, where you have officers, specific officers assigned to geographic locations, you can work with those officers and put the officers in contact with the community to be able to specifically address those concerns. Yes, there are concerns that are citywide when you think about the grand scheme of things, specific issues that we collaborate with the neighborhood, the neighborhood president’s, the neighborhood, um —

Inweeky: Associations?

Randall: Associations, to be able to work on those very specific issues to that very specific neighborhood. Some of their issues may be traffic around schools, so then you work with the neighborhood association and the school to come up with a very positive solution to mitigate that. So, those are the sustainable solutions that I talk about as examples of when you incorporate the community into doing the things that we do everyday to have those longstanding, sustainable solutions that are grand on the scale of things, but very important to that particular neighborhood.

Inweeky: Outside of just what you’re hearing from people, what do you identify as the city’s biggest needs law enforcement-wise?

Randall: The biggest need from a law enforcement [perspective] — when I’ve taught law enforcement in general, I think public safety is critical to the success of any city. And when I talk about public safety, I’m talking about law enforcement, I’m talking about fire, EMS, I’m talking about healthcare, I”m talking about all the social services that come with it, because it’s all a public safety concern.

So, I look at it from the whole grand scheme of things. Public safety has got to be one of those top priorities, because if a city isn’t safe, if a city isn’t able to respond in an appropriate way to the citizens needs when it comes to those hierarchy of needs, it demoralizes the whole community, so public safety has to be at the forefront of things. In particularly in my line of work, in law enforcement.

You know, a lot of time people think law enforcement is 100 percent about enforcing the law. There’s a lot of educational opportunities that we take when we respond to a call for service. You know, from landloard-tennant disputes, to loud music, to vehicle break-ins and things of that nature, so we cover from one end of the spectrum to the next. But everything a police officer responds to isn’t a negative reaction to a law enforcement issue, it’s about problem solving a lot of the times. You know, coming together with people in the community, with the neighbors, with the neighborhood association, with the business owners, with the visitors to the city, and helping them solve a particular problem or issue.

And sometimes it’s not to the point where it’s about a law. It may be about a civil matter, it may be about a learning opportunity, sometimes it’s about direction, sometimes it’s about explaining the geographic of the city. I mean, there are a lot of times when a police officer gets stopped and get the wonderful opportunity to talk to visitors about what is going on in Pensacola, all the events, the beach, the events like Gallery Night that is happening this weekend, the fair is getting ready to come to town — so, we play a vital role and it’s not all about just law enforcement. Yes, that is a job that we do, but we provide so many more opportunities, interacting with the kids, the youth, attending little league football games on the weekend, interacting with the community, so it’s things like that that pay dividends. In the grand scheme of things it’s interrelated with public safety as a whole.

Inweeky: You said you have a lot of educational opportunities when you respond to various things. Do you have anything going where it’s a more formal, organized effort to engage with citizens? Not because you’re responding to something, but because you’re having a town hall or something like that?

Randall: So, one of the things that we’re getting ready to start spinning back up is our citizens’ police academy. That’s something like you’re talking about, those types of engagements? But anytime we have an opportunity, we see an opportunity to attend an event, a wholesome event, is an opportunity for engagement because one of the things about policing and law enforcement, especially from my perspective, and what i’m trying to promote here at PPD, is the human interaction, and the humanizing of the badge, telling stories of the officers behind the badge, because these men and women come out here each and every day and perform a service.

They are humans, they are human beings first, but yes, they are a public servant, a police officer, that happens to be a police officer and carry a badge, but they’re very committed about the service that they provide to the citizens. So, they value opportunities to be able to intergrate and collaborate with the community. So, we utilize the grandness of the events that the city of Pensacola has to be able to harness those opportunities to create the engagement.

As we come out of COVID and relax things a lot more you’re going to see us reinstitution some of the citizen police academies. This summer, before the numbers picked back up, we ran a youth heroes camp. It was about 20 to 40 local kids from around the community that spent a week with PPD officers and other volunteers to learn about the police department, leadership, to learn about teamwork and a whole host of other things, to build those relationships. But we visit the community centers each and every week, we have officers in each and every elementary school, we have officers assigned to the high schools and middle schools. And I think those opportunities there, they pay dividends each and every day because the amount of engagement and opportunities that these officers have with these young adults is amazing.

Inweeky: Can you talk a little bit about that, about — are these technically resource officers, or are they —

Randall:: Yes.

Inweeky: About the, I guess, dynamic and relationship of a resource officer, because you hear the ‘they need to be on campus because of protection issues, that it’s a good outreach tool’ and that kind of stuff, but you also hear that it can lead to stuff, you know, kids getting a criminal record potentially because the police respond to something as opposed to a non-law enforcement officer. How do you walk that line?

Randall:: You know, I’ve heard that from different avenues around the country, but this is the second organization that I’ve been at where it’s been a whole different philosophy on school resource officers. Yes, you have the resource officer that is the uniformed presence that provides safety for the campus, but these officers play a much bigger role.

You know, I challenge anybody to go to a school and just observe the amount of action that these resource officers provide, have with these young children, even at the elementary level, middle school all the way up to high school. I mean, the impact that they have on many of these kids’ lives, the relationships that they build are lifelong relationships. You know, I talk to some of the SROs that have been in the program for a while, that have had kids graduate and come back and actually call them to them about the successes in their lives, the challenges that they’ve had in their lives, for advice, guidance and mentorship and things of that nature. That’s more than just law enforcement and all of that, there’s friendships, there’s lifelong relationships being made.

I was just talking to a colleague on Friday that was an SRO years ago, he’s no longer in law enforcement, but he’s been out of law enforcement for five, six seven years, but he still has kids that he mentored when he was an SRO that reach out to him for advice and to tell him about the things that are going on in their lives. I mean, that’s impactful. You know, we hear the stories about the things that are going on in the country and other places, about what is happening in school, but my own perspective, and my own experience, I’ve seen some great things that these school resource officers are doing and I think they should be commended. Yes, there have been some things that have happened, but I don’t recall one in Pensacola and I don’t recall one in the agency that I came from because they are truly examples of what school resource officers, the importance of them —

Inweeky: Sure. I mean, I don’t think it’s necessarily things that happen, like there’s some huge incident. I think it’s more of a, you know — like, if you put on you ACLU hat and look at it through that lens, you have kind of systemic issue where there’s a fight at school and because a law enforcement officer is there he responds to it as a law enforcement officer, as opposed to the dean —

Randall:: Well, do you realize —

Inweeky: And there have been issues here.

Randall:: Yeah. And that’s why I come back and I challenge that narrative. I challenge people to go into school and talk to the SROs, the school administration, because that’s a whole different philosophy. Just because there’s a fight in the school doesn’t mean it automatically becomes a criminal matter.

There are a lot of different things. You know, the school administration will step in, from an administrative standpoint, to be the first avenue to not utilize the criminal justice system. That’s one of the most unique things about the school resource officer, because they play that, they have that role. The school administration can be the administrative side of the house and if it’s serious enough and really has to go into the criminal justice system, then the SRO may step in depending on certain circumstances.

But that’s not the first avenue when it comes to something happening at school. Yes, there are certain crimes that happen at school that, yes, it has to be — it’s unfortunate that it’s a criminal justice matter, but there alternative methods to dealing with certain issues, very minor issues at school. So, everything is not a law enforcement issue. And that’s why I talk about that special relationship that these SRO officers have with the school administration and the kids and young adult students, because it’s a very different role. A very different role. And my experience has been it works that way. You don’t have the school-to-prison pipeline like some communities have experienced. But when you have the right role, the right balance, and you have the support from the schools, the parents, and you have the right people in the mix, I think it is a recipe for great opportunities.

MIKE WOOD: Jeremy, if I could, even if we had the guardians in all the elementary schools, or the schools, the way it works, he explained that too, the school board disciplines, they discipline first. So, if there’s a fight we leave it up to them how they’re going to discipline. If a law is broken, even if a guardian is there, even a police officer, and it’s serious enough, they’re going to hold that person, and they’re going to call. And we have to affect an arrest. So, it’s going to happen whether we’re there or not if it’s serious. Just because it’s a sworn officer doesn’t mean that they’re going to be put into the criminal justice system easier than if he wasn’t there. It’s just not true.

Randall: And I think Mike hit it right on. I mean, you know, over the years, I know exactly what you’re alluding to, there’s been in some areas of the country, there’s been those statistics that show that that has been the case, but my experience is that hasn’t been the case, because it’s a whole different approach to how the school system works. And when you have a school district that is very cognizant of that alternative-methods approach, I mean, it works well.

But, I think the mentorship role and empower role of the law enforcement officer in the school, from my experience and the way, the direction that I like to go, that I will go, is that of building those relationships and not being a school-to-prison pipeline innovator or something like that. But, I walked into this environment and I tell you it’s impressive, because the SROs, the school resource officers, and the school district collaborate on a very, very good level. And I meet with the school superintendent and visit as many schools as I can. Because one of the things that I like to do, and I talked about the pop-ins — so, I’ll pop in to a school, and I just like to sit and observe. Because I think that’s the best way to evaluate things, just to see the unedited version of how kids and police officers interact in schools — the kids, the police officers interacting in school, it’s just amazing. Amazing.

Inweeky: Do you wear your uniform when you pop in?

Randall: Yeah, yeah.

Inweeky: So, it’s not totally unedited.

Randall: Well, they don’t know I’m coming.

Wood: You know, I’ve been a cop 34 years and I’ve never seen a chief do this before. And I’ve worked for a bunch of chiefs. He goes down there and he checks an unmarked police car and he gets in it and he goes to work. He makes traffic stops, he answers calls and he does pop-ins. In an unmarked police car. I’ve never seen that. I mean that’s boots on the ground, you know, leading by example, and we’ve just never seen that.

Inweeky: Can you talk a little bit about — you were talking a minute ago about ‘the police are the community, the community are the police.’ You know, what are you doing exactly, I guess, to soften the us-them divide?

Randall: So, it’s all about how you approach it as a leader. You know, a leader of an organization sets the tone. Like Mike said, when you have the police chief out there interacting with the community, talking with the youth, going to meetings, you know, bringing along others and showing them how things are done in a very integrating and empowering way, I think that speaks volumes.

And I tell you, this department has been very, very engaging in all aspects. Very, very ingrained in the community. Very, very giving to the community and different organizations. And like anything, there’s always room for improvement, so each and every day, each and every call, we try to spend time, that extra time, explaining to people the process, the ‘why.’

Because, I tell you, it all starts with the ‘why.’ Why did this potentially happen? Why is this going to work this way? Why did we this and we did’t do that? What are the next steps? Taking the time to have the human interactions with people. The care, the compassion, the empathy, the professionalism. That is how we continue to impact our ability to be able to relate to the community.

And it’s not an us-versus-them. You know, we treat — one of the things I first talked about when I first came here, you know, every employee knows this, we treat people with respect and dignity. And it’s all about the golden rule, anyone can tell you that. You know, you treat the people the way you would want to be treated. Respect and dignity, no matter what’s going on. And then the other thing I talked about and explained to the employees: always ask yourself, each and every day, what have I done, personally, to make the community a better place? No matter how big or how small. And if you live by that and you use those principals each day, then the work that we do to grow our relationships, to build trust is going to continue to grow each and every day. But, we have to do it each and every day, each and every officer, and get better and better today than we were yesterday. Be better tomorrow than we were today. We have to constantly be working at that.

IN: Ok. I’ve just got a couple of more here, I’ll try to wrap this up here. You’re coming the job as, both locally and nationally, there’s been this ongoing conversation, you know, a lot of it centering around race, racial justice, systemic racism in law enforcement, that kind of stuff. Can you speak a bit about that, just from the perspective of someone who is black, someone who is a police officer and someone who is now, you know, leading this organization.

Randall: So, yes, I’ll talk to it. We in law enforcement have to be very cognizant of the history of policing, and it goes all the way back to, you think about back in, you know, slave patrols. And you think back to the Civil Rights movement, and you think about, you know, you think about what happened at Edmund Pettis Bridge. Those things, you know, in a historical context is always in the back of people’s minds and sometimes it’s in the forefront of people’s minds.

And, you know, you think about the things that have happened over the years in recent times that have sparked a lot of conversations, a lot of angst, a lot of civil unrest. And years ago, after the Michael Brown shooting in Missouri, we enacted the presidential commission on policing that came out with the 21st Century policing principals, you know, the six pillars. So, each and every day we have to be cognizant of that and understand the internal biases that each and everyone of us has and how it interrelates to how we do our job and how we perform our job and making sure those biases don’t interact with our jobs.

But, first we have to be able to understand that. We have to understand that history is important because if we don’t understand history how do we make sure that we don’t make the mistakes of the past again. And how law enforcement, back in the day, was utilized in a way to suppress certain things that went on in society and for many those are fresh wounds. Those wounds reappear when things happen around the country.

But I think what we have to do in law enforcement, we have to be very, very open and very, very straight forward and be willing to have those conversations with the community, being able to open the door and walk the talk and talk our way through that and have the necessary reforms in place and things so we don’t revert back to into those instances. And that’s what we talk about, building relationships.

It’s all about trust. And building trust, you know, sometimes doesn’t come from visiting a location and talking to people one time, but having that continued interaction and being able to be open and honest and explaining the purpose of how law enforcement is here. And treating people with respect, I think it all boils down to that.

But being an African-American in law enforcement is a great honor, it’s a great honor. And being able to lead an organization is a great honor as well. But at the same time I have to be cognizant of the history of law enforcement and work really, really hard to move the organization and, at the same time, move the community as one team bridging the gap, in any way possible, to make sure we’re working congruently to empower each other to make the city the best it can be.

And, you know, that’s a heavy burden because you can control an organization, but at the same time you’ve got to be able to collaborate with the community and get us all working together for a common purpose for the good of man. And I don’t take that lightly. I don’t take it lightly. And I think so many times, I think one thing that you see that I will try to do differently than anybody else is, you know, not only focusing on the organization, but focusing on the community as well.

You know, in government it’s all holistic, bringing it all together, working together as a team. And I think public safety and policing is the lead on that. And how we promote ourselves, how invigorating we can be, and how doing the right things, being in the right places, explaining the ‘why,’ giving people a voice can set the example for everyone else to join the team and help move us all forward. But we’ve got to work at it everyday. Everyday we’ve got to work at it. But having the right philosophy, the right mindset, but not forgetting about the history, and understanding the history, I think is important.

Inweeky: And, you might have just answered this, but I’m gonna ask you anyway — growing up, did you have, even from a very young age, kind of a innate sense of the societal dynamics and if so, how did that play into and inform your decision to pursue a career in law enforcement.

Randall: Yeah, you know, growing up there’s all kind of things that go on and you have your interactions with various different people in society. And, you know, I interacted with police growing up, but I’ll tell you, the most interesting thing — and I go back to this when we were talking about school resource officers — I think the person that had the most impact on me about law enforcement was my SRO, Chris Hoffman, he retired from here —

Inweeky: He was there when I went to Washington as well.

Randall: What year did you go?

Inweeky: Uhhh, I graduated in 93.

Randall: Oh, so you were there the same time I was. I graduated in 91. So, yeah, you know, it’s interesting because it comes back full circle because when I got, when it was announced I was getting the job, you know one of the first people that reached out to me was Chris Hoffman, my SRO.

Inweeky: Had y’all kept in contact?

Randall: No, no, because, you know, two weeks after I left, after I graduated, I was on a plane northbound to boot camp in the Navy and, you know, I went on that direction and spent my time in the Navy and got into law enforcement when I was still active duty in the Navy. But, Chris and I would talk when I was in high school and Chris really pushed me to, and would recruit me hard to get into the Explorer program. And I never joined the Explorer program, because I was playing sports and JROTC. But Chris worked hard and we’d have some good conversations all the time about policing and the opportunities that were there. But, I think, that was probably the greatest impact on me.

And, you know, the interesting thing was, that was when I was 17, 18 — 16, 17, 18-years-old — and six years later, eight years later I get into [inaudible]. You know, the impact that that had, it was all about the relationship he built with me, with other kids. And it wasn’t about, you know, the prison-to-school pipeline back then, because Chris was a great guy, he really cared. And that’s what I see in the SROs today. Even if it’s just one kid you can make a difference in. And he was the one, and I think about it, and how it goes back to how he exposed me to law enforcement and then it came full circle and look at me now. I have a gracious opportunity to come back home and be the police chief in the city that I was born and raised in.

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1 thought on “PPD Chief Eric Randall interview, October 2021

  1. The interview sounds good but reality is very different. I waited until the new Pensacola Police Chief had been in office for a few months before I reported the illegal/criminal actions, mostly felonies, Pensacola City Officials, including the Pensacola Police Department, have committed against me and which are still ongoing.
    I sent an email to Pensacola Police Chief Randall two weeks ago today – see below
    ———————————————————————————————
    False charges against me in order to keep my business illegally closed
    Mary Mead
    Attachments
    Thu, Oct 14, 10:06 AM
    to ERandall
    Dear Chief Randal
    I am a 77-year-old woman veteran, and am asking for your help. My late husband (of 39 years) and I are veterans and long-time residents of Pensacola – over 70 years each. City Officials have committed illegal/criminal actions, mostly felonies, against us since July 1, 1998, when we bought a business, an art gallery/antique shop hosting functions.
    ——————————————————————————————————-
    I posted my email to Chief Randall (an open letter) on my facebook account (Mary Mead Pensacola) so anyone can read the report of felonies being committed against me which appear to also constitute elder abuse. I previously reported these illegal/criminal actions against me to Police Chief Mathis, Police Chief Simmons, Police Chief Alexander, and Police Chief Lyter. All of them refused to stop the felonies against me. These felonies were initiated on March 19, 2005 by an armed Pensacola Police Officer illegally coming to my property and illegally closing my small business in violation of my constitutional rights since there was no due process in law which is required by the U. S. Constitution to close my business and deprive me of my legitimate income from my investment property. I had hoped that Chief Randall would stop the felonies being committed against me.

    Police Chief Randall appears to be ignoring the sadistic persecution being practiced against me which has denied me earning a penny from my investment property for over 16 years (2005 until now) to apparently drive me from the City. The felonies against us made the last years of two elderly veterans very difficult.

    Chief Randall, please stop the felonies being committed against me.

    Sincerely,

    Mary Mead

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