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Meet Tallahassee's New Police Chief Michael DeLeo

There’s a new Police Chief in town, and Michael DeLeo says there are several things he’s focused on as the new head of the Tallahassee Police Department. WFSU sat down with DeLeo to discuss his vision for the department and takes a look at the start of his journey in the Capitol city.

DeLeo's Swearing-In

Before the start of the New Year, Michael DeLeo was sworn in as Tallahassee’s newest Police Chief.

“By order of the City Manager Anita Favors Thompson, the following person is hereby sworn-in to active duty as chief of police of the Tallahassee Police Department, effective this date, Monday, December 30th, 2013, Chief of Police Michael Joseph DeLeo,” TPD Spokesman Dave Northway, who officiated the ceremony.

Before moving to Tallahassee, DeLeo was the Plantation Police Department’s Deputy Police Chief. While there, he helped oversee a little more than 300 officers, but now he’ll be in charge of more than 400. He also has close to 20 years in law enforcement experience, which city manager Anita Favors Thompson says will benefit the department.

Credit Tom Flanigan / WFSU-FM
Michael DeLeo's watches as he gets sworn in as Tallahassee's new Police Chief.

“He began his career with the Plantation Police Department in 1994 as a patrol officer. During his career, he has served in the Patrol Division and supervised the SWAT Unit, Street Crimes Unit, Crisis Response Team, Field Force Unit, Traffic Unit and K-9 Unit. As Deputy Chief DeLeo managed the Administration Bureau, which included the Budget, Fleet, Communications, Professional Standards, Records, Property & Evidence, Training, Recruitment & Hiring, and Code Enforcement. He brings the entire package,” said Favors Thompson.

And, that day, DeLeo got a bit teary-eyed as he talked about having the support of his two boys and his wife in this new venture.

“Dina, in 20 years, your love and faith for me has never wavered. A long time ago, you said you’d go anywhere with me. Here we are," said a choked up DeLeo.

DeLeo Discusses His First Ride-Along

Later, following the ceremony, DeLeo took to the streets in his new home, by pulling a midnight shift and doing a ride-along.

Part of his focus is to make sure to get as immersed as he can in the department and learn as much as he can about the city. And, he says there’s no better way to do that than a ride along with officers of different ranks. In fact, just hours after his swearing-in ceremony, DeLeo took to the streets in his new home, by pulling a midnight shift and doing a ride-along.  DeLeo says he’s done several more since and he’s encouraging it among his staff as well.

“You know, you can’t supervise using cell phones and technology, you actually have to spend time out with your people, talk with them, and listen to them because otherwise, you’re not aware of what’s really going on,” said DeLeo.

Laughing, he recalled his experience during his first ride-along.

Credit Sascha Cordner / WFSU-FM

“So, that first night, I was involved in a foot pursuit with the suspect, the other officer, and Lt. Abbey. And, as we’re running through backyards, at one point, I told Lt. Abbey, 'you realize you can’t lose me because if I have to get on the radio, I don’t know where we are. So, if I have to call for help, we're in serious trouble' because part of my learning is learning the city.  So, I said 'you can’t go too far away from me because I have no idea where we’re at if we need more help," he said, laughing.

"So, He said don’t worry I won’t leave you. So, it was great and fun to go out and doing real police work, for lack of a better term."

Focus On "Use Of Force" Training

Another one of his focuses is officer training—the use of force training in particular.  DeLeo replaces former Chief Dennis Jones, who retired early amid a scandal involving the department’s handling of a DUI arrest, which shone a light on officers’ use of force.

Every year, it’s required officers go through basic training, and went to applying use of force is included. And, DeLeo says under his watch, he’s making sure to place special emphasis on that training.

“And, use of force is always one of those things that we could be over-driving again, legal topics, things like that. Well, one of the points of emphasis this year with use of force is verbal communication, learning how to try to help de-escalate a situation, how can we get people to calm down, and hopefully, limit the number of times we actually have to go hands-on with someone or get into a physical confrontation because we’re communicating more effectively,” added DeLeo.

DeLeo says he’s also been meeting and working with community leaders, and hopes he can in his words to “reestablish the community’s trust” in the Tallahassee Police Department.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.