Changes earn praise for Wildwood police

Wildwood police officer Angela Velez, left, talks about the various pieces of equipment she carries with members of Wildwood Girl Scout Troop 84508 at the Wildwood Police Department.

The Wildwood Police Department will soon receive a key recognition from the state. It’s another form of confirmation for city officials and residents that the department has made drastic improvements the last two years under the direction of Chief Randy Parmer. In June, the Wildwood Police Department will be recognized as an officially accredited department for the first time. After an extensive review, the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation gave the department excellent marks. City Manager Jason McHugh said earning the accreditation is a positive step for the department.

 “Earning accreditation helps us with the ability to better prevent and control crime in the city,” he said. “It shows the community we’re following professional processes and procedures and that we’re improving, among other things, our accountability and transparency.”

Parmer made it a goal to become an accredited department early in his tenure.

“This is a tremendous achievement that validates our agency in so many ways,” he said. “It shows the community that we hold ourselves to a standard of excellence.”

Parmer gave credit to the team assigned to oversee the accreditation process and the entire agency for the recognition.

Positive Response

While the praise from the state is welcomed, McHugh said he is more pleased with the positive responses he has heard from the community about the changes within the department since Parmer took over.

“To be honest, when I became city manager, I inherited a department in turmoil,” he said.

When Parmer was hired in March of 2019, McHugh was looking for a complete change in culture.

“He understood the message,” McHugh said. “I knew it was going to take some time. I was looking at about a two-year process. And lo and behold, here we are two years later and we have an accredited police force really making a difference in our community.”

Parmer said he is pleased at where the department stands today.

“I definitely look at it as a complete 180-degree turnaround,” he said. “When I came in I knew we needed to completely rebuild the department from top to bottom.”

A top priority

Commissioner Marcos Flores, who previously spent nearly seven years as a deputy with the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, said helping improve the department has been a top priority. 

“Because of my experience as a law enforcement officer, I have really focused my attention on the police department and trying to get them modernized,” he said.

A big step toward that modernization was the approval of construction of a new police headquarters building that opened last August.

Future in Mind

The building was designed and constructed with future growth of the city and department in mind.

“That’s something that the entire community and city can be proud of,” Parmer said of the new building. “My first year here I was working out of a single-wide trailer. Now we have a beautiful state-of-the-art facility. It’s proof that we enjoy the support from our elected officials, our city manager and the community. It’s good to know they have our backs 100%.”

Flores said the new building also will be a solid recruiting tool as the department grows along with the city.

“Ever since the new building opened, the morale has been way up,” he said. “Officers have a place to work they can be proud of. That will definitely help us with new recruits when they see what the city of Wildwood has to offer.”

Other changes include new branding for uniforms and vehicles. 

“It all starts with appearance,” Parmer said. “We needed to have uniformity. That’s key in getting respect.” 

Parmer also needed to shore up personnel.

“We had quite a bit of turnover,” he said. “We had some people when I got here who didn’t need to be involved with our department. But we’ve been able to replace them with good-quality officers.”

The next step was to change perception of the department within the community.

And the way to do that was show how officers are a part of the community themselves.

“Chief Parmer believes strongly in the benefits of community policing,” McHugh said. “Officers are getting out of their cars and interacting more with residents and engaging with the community. It shows that they care about the well-being of the city and its residents, and want to make their lives safer.”

A position was created for a community outreach officer. The department has seen greater success with charitable efforts like its annual Christmas With a Cop initiative. Officers also are making it a point to attend more community events.

New attitude

Longtime resident Charlie Strong, 81, said he has noticed a change in attitude.

“I have definitely seen them out in the community, cooperating and trying to help make a difference,” he said. “They are very cordial to people and they are making themselves visible in the community. I haven’t heard any negative reports in a long time. They are trying to improve and work with the community; that’s what I’ve seen.”

Strong said the efforts are paying dividends.

“It has made an impact on the amount of violence in the community,” he said. “Now, you’re never going to be able to get rid of it completely, but it definitely has improved a lot.”

Recognition like that from the community is just as important as accolades from a state agency, Parmer said.

“That’s another measure of the success that we have achieved,” he said. “When people come to formal commission meetings to get up and say positive things, it shows me that we’re doing what we should be doing. We want to go the extra mile to provide a service to the community.”

McHugh said the department is a great example of how the community has been able to improve as it grows.

“Wildwood used to be seen as a run-down rural town,” he said. “Now we’re a growing community. We have a great new facility and an agency we can be proud of that is responsive to the needs of the community. We want the police department to be a beacon of what the city of Wildwood is becoming.”

Specialty Editor Keith Pearlman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5347, or keith.pearlman@thevillagesmedia.com.