By Andrew McKay 06/04/20
Pensacola Police Chief Tommi Lyter tells NewsRadio that Pensacola EggFest (and others) approached him to ask if they could feed the Graffiti Bridge protesters this Saturday. His first response was to check with the organizers to be sure they were amenable, which they were. Lyter says it was important to him that the organizers know, “If you don’t want us there, we won’t show up. I’m not going to impose myself upon your event, if it’s not something that you want,” but he says Kyle Cole was very welcoming. So this Saturday, Lyter and Mayor Robinson will be meeting with the organizers from 11 AM to 1 PM at the Bridge. Lyter says 17th Avenue will be closed on Saturday during that time to allow the participants to march along the street.
Chief Lyter also says he is very impressed with the conduct of this particular protest. “We’ve had a number of protests in Pensacola over the 30 years that I’ve been down here. I don’t remember one that has had this much participation. Just the sheer numbers and the length of time, I think they’re in for the long haul. So that’s not a bad thing, though. I like the diversity of the crowd…I like the fact that there’s young people there, there’s older people there. Everybody agrees with the message. You cannot look at that video of the murder of George Floyd, and it was a murder, with anything other than disgust….everybody that watched it was just appalled by it, and I am just as much. You know, I view it through the eyes of a law enforcement officer, and you ask all those questions: How in the heck, how did that happen, how is it possible that somebody in my profession can do that to another human being?”
In addition, Lyter says this protest happens to coincide with the re-training on the use of force his Department conducts every year, which now specifically includes using this video to teach what not to do. “Every single police officer watched it, and I’ve made sure that they knew exactly how I feel….(and) how we would expect them to handle this incident.” In addition, Lyter says part of that training is reminding officers that if they are witnesses to an abuse of force like this that they are obligated to intervene and stop it. If they do not, “then you are just as guilty as the officer who is misbehaving….It wouldn’t have taken much to step up and stop that officer from kneeling on his neck. It would not have taken much for one of those other uniformed officers to stop him, and that’s what’s so tragic about it is the opportunity…to just change the course of that contact. And any one of those officers could have done it and it’s shameful that they didn’t.”
Asked whether he supports the idea of routine psychological screening and re-screening of police officers, Lyter says, ‘I’m all in….I’m hoping by the time I leave that we have a robust mental health program in place for the Pensacola Police Department. I think as a profession that’s where we drop the ball.” Lyter went on to say that the clear lack of empathy he saw by those officers for George Floyd is evident and can often be a symptom of PTSD. He says that human beings just aren’t built to process traumatic events like police encounter routinely. So over time, “It may not be a single traumatic event. It’s the traffic crash with the death of a child. There’s serious critical injuries, and then you leave there and you go to a domestic violence that might be particularly violent…and it’s this daily grind day after day after day of work. And over time that it builds on itself, it just does.” He says his goal is to have in-house counselors with mandatory sit-downs with a mental health counselor at least once per year or even twice per year as well as peer counseling with other cops. The goal is to “identify those officers earlier who may be experiencing some of that PTSD, the way it manifests itself.” Lyter says he already tasked a Lieutenant specifically to work on developing this program of officer wellness and mental health last year.
Listen to interview here: