By Dixie Ann Black
Larry Scirotto was hired after a nationwide search and sworn into office as Fort Lauderdale’s Police Chief in August 2021. The chief who hails from Philadelphia and is of bi-racial parentage, has stated to various news sources that as the new Chief of FLPD he was, “directed to build a diverse and inclusive police department.”
He apparently set to work doing so by promoting 15 officers between August and November. Of the 15 officers promoted by the chief, nine were white males, the other six were ethnic or gender minorities. However, the Chief was fired on March 3rd, 2022, having served only six months in office. The charges against him include discrimination.
How does one who is working on creating a diverse and inclusive working environment get charged with discrimination?
Four of the officers not selected for promotions (including three men and one woman) filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The result was that the Chief found himself the subject of an outside investigation due to these complaints of discrimination. In response to the complaints, Gregg Rossman, an outside attorney, was hired by the city. Mr. Rossman has provided the city with a report which concludes that:
“While diversity is an important and laudable goal, it must be accomplished in a manner ensuring all members’ rights are protected.”
Scirotto reponds to Rossman’s report with these words,
“Those minority groups now are being treated as less than deserving. That’s not the case and it never was. They deserved to be promoted. And by the way, they happened to be minorities. It wasn’t because they were minorities.”
Rossman’s report is replete with statements from several interviewees in support of its conclusion that the chief’s choices of diverse individuals were preferential treatment based on race and gender.
The former chief, in referring to the report which is the basis of his termination has said it is
“…nothing more than an opinion piece and it lacks credibility.”
“The promotions I made of our minority candidates was because they were exceptional candidates. They had excellence in every level of the organization.”
Former Chief Scirotto flatly denies key statements made in the report. For instance, the report states that in choosing who to promote the then chief had asked, “which one is blacker?”, Scirotto, whose father is Black, denies ever saying that and adds,
“That is offensive!”
In another alleged quote, Scirotto was noted as pointing to the wall in the Chief’s conference room and saying, “that wall is too White” and “I’m gonna change that.” The former chief again denies the intent inferred in these statements and explains that he was speaking in the context of having the department reflect the diversity of the community it serves.
These and other quotes in the report are used as the basis for the former Chief’s statement to CNN that the law firm’s report is “vague on facts”. He further referred to the report as “hearsay”.
Is former Chief Scirotto correct when he said he was hired to address diversity and inclusion?
Mayor Dean Trantalis answers that question emphatically,
“The action taken against the Chief is a slap in the face of a city that prides itself on diversity and equality.”
NAACP president Marsha Ellison underscores the deliberateness of choosing the former Chief and his purpose. She participated in the national search and personally interviewed Scirotto after reviewing his history. He was her number one choice.
“Fort Lauderdale has a habit of deploying resources to neighborhoods other than Blacks ones.”
She noted that the Chief brought a fairness and openness that inspired other Black officers.
“He began to have meetings with the community for policies and procedures. This was not the case before his arrival.” She continues that rather than accepting being passed over for promotions,
“Black officers started studying to apply for promotions because they felt they now had a chance.”
Is there an obvious issue of lack of diversity that needs to be addressed in the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department?
The former Chief offered an answer in reference to the pictures “on the wall in the Chief’s conference room” mentioned in the report.
“The bottom row consists of a majority of White men and one White woman.” Scirotto told reporters. “How do I convince our community that we are a diverse community when this is what they see, and we speak about diversity and inclusion?”
In trying to right the balance of representation, was the former chief too enthusiastic in his desire to bring diversity? In other words, did he choose favor over actual merit? According to NAACP President Ellison that was not the case.
“In order to be considered for promotions, officers had to make it into the ‘Top Five’.”
This prestigious rating includes years of service, advanced degrees, good relationships skills and professional conduct. There are officers in the Top Five who may score well, but their character and relationship with the community, including racist elements also have to be considered by the Chief, Ellison points out. She refers back to videotaped instances during the local Black Lives protests where officers were caught on camera using excessive or unnecessary force while others were seen defending the rights of the community. The NAACP president makes it clear; it is the Chief’s job to take all of these elements into consideration in making his selections.
Stephen Gollan, Spokesman for the City of Fort Lauderdale, take a different view. He confirms that the candidates selected are very qualified, however the concern is that the selection process was discriminatory.
When asked why, he refers back to the Rossman report. Does the information in the report fall under the category of “hearsay” as Scirotto states?
“This is not hearsay. It clearly shows he violated federal law,” Mr. Gollan’s responds.
Does this mean that the promotions issued under Scirotto’s leadership may be rescinded? Gollan replies that the promotions are not in jeopardy “in terms of qualification but selection process in the order in which they were promoted.”
Scirotto stresses that he was not given a chance to tell his side of the story before being terminated. Now that Scirotto has had a chance to tell his story to the community, is there a chance he will be reinstated?
Gollan replies, “It is hard for me to comment on an ongoing investigation.” He confirmed that this ongoing investigation involves the further accusation that Scirotto also worked “as a college basketball referee while on the clock as chief and getting paid for it”, as one news source explains. He further adds that the city has done an audit and is turning over the results to FDLE to continue its investigation of Scirotto’s activities.
The bottom line offered by Gollan is that he stands by the Rossman report as a reason for Scirotto’s termination.
The firing of Scirotto is reminiscent of the firing of Miami Police Chief Acevedo, and the similarities are not lost on President Ellison.
“They didn’t give Larry an opportunity to defend himself. There was no due process whatsoever.”
Scirotto’s firing came before an HR investigation, Ellison points out. She points to a history of discrimination against the Chief from the beginning by explaining that as a candidate for the job, Scirotto was required to provide his birth certificate to prove that his father was Black.
Mayor Trantalis summaries the situation as follows, “Police Chief Scirotto was brought in from the outside to a system that needed reform and a mandate. But there were elements that did their best to demonize him.”
Can justice prevail? Trantalis sees this as possible if the parties involved are “willing to peel back the rhetoric and work with the city manager and staff to ensure the best outcome.”
As for Scirotto, he has made his stance clear. In a news conference with the NAACP’s president, he is quoted as saying, “If promoting diversity and inclusion in the FLPD is the hill I die on, I will sleep well tonight.”