BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – A Florida chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police posted a now deleted advertisement over the weekend calling on those officers involved in violent incidents in Buffalo and Atlanta to join the ranks of local police agencies, drawing howls of outrage from citizens across Florida.
"Hey Buffalo 57... and Atlanta 6... we are hiring in Florida. Lower taxes, no spineless leadership, or dumb mayors rambling on at press conferences... Plus... we got your back! #lawandorderFlorida," reads the June 6 post made at 1:21 a.m on the Brevard County FOP Facebook page. The post, deleted sometime Monday morning garnered over 2,000 comments and 1,000 shares.
The Fraternal Order of Police is the largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers in the country, representing some 300,000 members across some 2,000 local "lodges." Critics say the nonprofit organization is a major obstacle to policing reform through their advocacy and deep ties to police unions.
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The President of the Brevard County lodge acknowledged that the post was legitimate and defended its recruiting efforts as well as the actions of the Buffalo and Atlanta police officers involved in the widely condemned incidents. Some of those officers have been arrested and face criminal charges.
In Atlanta, six officers were criminally charged, four with felonies, for the arrest of two black college students, a man and a woman, while leaving a protest in their car. The incident, also caught on video, shows them violently removing the pair from the vehicle, tasing them and slamming them to the ground. One of the students suffered a broken wrist and a deep gash.
'Many who I work with express their frustrations to me daily'
Brevard County FOP President Bert Gamin, who said he is a 28-year law enforcement veteran, claimed responsibility for the recruitment post.
"Our citizens have a right to protest peacefully and legally. They do not have a right to block roadways, trespass on private property or disobey lawful commands from law enforcement officers," he wrote in response to emailed questions from Florida Today of the USA TODAY Network.
Gamin has since apologized for the post, but not before he stood by it in comments to Florida Today. In a statement issued Tuesday, Gamin said the post was "in poor taste and did not reflect the sentiment that I was trying to convey, nor that of the FOP.
"For that, I humbly apologize to all of you," he said.
Gamin initially defended the incidents in Buffalo and Atlanta.
"The police had the legal authority in both cases. At the time the warnings were provided, the citizens were already breaking the law. Those citizens chose to disregard the warnings. It led directly to escalations and confrontations with the police. When we issue lawful commands/warnings, citizens have a responsibility to comply. The reality is failure to comply leads to escalation."
"As it specifically relates to the elderly gentleman in Buffalo, he and others were repeatedly warned by the police to leave the area. They disobeyed the orders, 'he wrote, adding "Those Buffalo officers, like many across this nation, are being placed in absolute no-win situations. That field force unit was ordered to clear the area. They followed the orders they were given and followed their training."
Gamin also implied that his fellow lodge members felt the same way.
"Members of my lodge and many who I work with express their frustrations to me daily," he said, adding, "No one on the planet condones what happened to Mr. Floyd."
Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey distanced himself from the Brevard F.O.P. posts in a statement on Facebook, calling them "extremely distasteful and insensitive to current important and critical issues that are occurring across our country."
Ivey said comments by the organization or its members have no connection to his agency and "do not in any way represent the views of our agency."
Ivey said members of the sheriff's office are represented by "another association."
Prominent city and state officials also denounced the post, including state Rep. Randy Fine, R–Palm Bay, who called on Ivey to fire Gamin, who is a Brevard County Sheriff's Office Lieutenant.
While he recognized union rules may make it difficult for Gamin to be dismissed, "I hope the Sheriff fires him," Fine said.
The Brevard County FOP says it provides support to over 600 officers and deputies according to its website, but Gamin said the membership is "approximately 190."
"The FOP exists for the purpose of improving the conditions of policeman (sic) and for advancing social, benevolent, charitable and educational undertakings among policemen, and the community," according to the Brevard FOP Facebook page.
"We provide a social setting and legal representation, depending on their level of membership," he said.
The chapter, the J.W. Dunn Memorial Lodge #37, is the oldest in its county, was established in 1965 according to their site.
Vickey Mitchner, who organized the largest peaceful demonstration on Florida's Space Coast on Saturday, said she hoped to see Brevard County police departments distance themselves from the inflammatory Facebook postings.
"People are marching (against) police brutality and injustices ... that was an unnecessary comment and very offensive to victims who have suffered at the hand of police brutality," she said.
Spokespeople from several police departments in the county have come out and denounced the Facebook post.
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This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Florida Fraternal Order of Police says Buffalo, Atlanta cops welcome