Val Demings reduced violent crime in Orlando when she was police chief. Now she's running for Congress and sharing her problem-solving smarts.
1. Prepare for your chance. I'm the youngest of seven children. My mother was a maid and my dad was a janitor in Jacksonville, Florida. But my mother told me I could do anything if I was willing to work hard for it. To be a better candidate for police chief, I went to the FBI Academy, in Virginia. It was three months in the middle of the woods, away from my family, but I knew I didn't want the mayor to have any excuses not to select me when he came looking for his next chief. You need opportunity to have success, and you can't always control that. But you can increase your odds by being prepared.
2. Look past yourself. My second day on the job as Orlando police chief, a blog post popped online that called me a "black bitch" and questioned what I could do. I was able to push past the negativity by focusing on my passion for improving the quality of life of people who cannot do it for themselves. When I think of things in terms of the bigger picture, I know I'm a champion. I can be a conqueror, a survivor! But if it's just about me, when they call me a black bitch, I would just stay home.
3. See all the angles. When I was appointed chief, I said that the reduction of violent crime is our no. 1 priority. We knew that a good deal of the crime was committed by a small group in one area. So we targeted that neighborhood intensively and got a lot of those people off the street and incarcerated. But we also had initiatives — such as sponsoring a GED program for people who never finished high school, building a playground, and organizing a job fair — that addressed the area's social ills. If you want to change a community long-term, you have to address the social ills that cause crime in the first place.
4. Earn trust with your actions. The Palms Apartments was a crime-ridden housing complex in Orlando. Early on as chief, I called a community meeting and asked, "How can we help you make this community safer?" We formed committees and told everyone to call if they needed anything. Soon after, my assistant came into my office and said, "Chief, there's a lady from the Palms on the phone who wants to talk to you about her fridge going out. It's ridiculous!" I got on with her. She told me that her fridge broke three days before, right after she'd gotten her monthly check and gone to the grocery store. Management wasn't responding, and everything was spoiling. I sent one of my deputy chiefs out to the Palms and told him not to leave until that fridge was fixed. A week later, the same lady called and said, "I want to tell you who's selling drugs here and who's breaking into houses across the street." That changed everything. Getting her fridge fixed made her trust me, and that allowed me to do my job and make the Palms safer. If you involve people in the problem solving, then they'll also be advocates for you.