Rep. Val Demings will speak Wednesday evening at the Democratic National Convention and, as a former police chief, could touch on the theme of policing and race — but it’s an issue on which she appears to have changed her tone in recent years.
Demings, D-Fla., spent four years as Orlando police chief as part of her 27 years of service, and traditionally has been a strong defender of the men and women in blue. She was considered for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s running mate, presumed to be in part because of her police background.
But, in a year that has seen calls to defund the police and other anti-cop rhetoric in the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody, that credential was seen as a double-edged sword. Democrats have become focused on targeting “systemic racism” they see in police forces across the country.
That’s a push that Demings herself has joined. In June she described systemic racism as “the ghost in the room."
“We know that we have been fighting systemic racism in this country for 400 years,” Demings, 63, said in an interview with ABC's “This Week.” “We know that it has … reared its ugly head in law enforcement agencies, and housing, and education, and too many other places.”
In an appearance on CBS’ “This Morning” in June, Demings criticized Attorney General William Barr for denying there was systemic racism in law enforcement.
“I believe that’s just a talking point and, unfortunately, when you fail to publicly admit that there is a problem then it is extremely difficult to address the problem,” she said. "I’ve also said that the president and certainly the top cop, i.e. William Barr, have a direct responsibility to intervene and say that ‘yes, we have a problem but we are going to put the full weight of the White House and the Department of Justice to fixing it, to righting it, to showing compassion, and bringing the country together.'”
“Unfortunately, I don’t believe the president nor the attorney general have the capability of doing that and certainly if they are continuing to stand on the microphone on a public and international stage and say there is no problem, then quite frankly I think that they’ve served their usefulness for this country,” she said.
But that is a change from 2006, when as deputy police chief she was a staunch defender of the cops, and denied there was racism in her police department.
“As the highest-ranking African-American member of the Orlando Police Department, I have read and heard quite enough about the suggestions of racism, racial profiling and the like,” she wrote in an op-ed for the Orlando Sentinel.
“Like any large organization, civic, non-profit, religious, or otherwise, we have our issues. We, like others, are not perfect. But for anyone to suggest that racial profiling is an active part of our operation and suggest that I and other black officers, supervisors, and managers at OPD would sit back and ignore or tolerate it, is an attack on the very essence of who we are and what we stand for.”
The same year at a forum on community policing, according to the Sentinel, Demings “countered that times have changed since police departments were tools of oppression in minority communities and OPD encourages residents to report police misconduct.”
“We need you to call when you feel an officer didn’t do what he or she should have done,” she said.
It comes amid broader questions from the left about Demings' service as a top cop, and whether she was the reformer she now claims to be. A Politico report last month found there was “widespread dissatisfaction with her responses to incidents of brutality” when in charge of the OPD.
It also reported that in the six years since Demings left the Orlando force, it has seen drops both in the annual average of incidents of use of force and in use of force against Black men and women.
Demings told Politico that while serving as police chief, she “worked to review and make policy changes.”
“The goal of police work should always be to keep people safe and resolve dangerous situations without injury,” she said.
She also stressed her work on community policing programs and said that her predecessors also saw her as a reformer: “Building fair, safe, strong communities is exactly what police work can and should be."
Fox News’ Brie Stimson contributed to this report.