Jerry Demings, The People’s Sheriff
BY DEVIN HEFLIN, TIMES STAFF WRITER
ORANGE COUNTY - When one reads their history, they’re amazed to find the feats achieved by the figures they read about. Some close the book to resume reading at a later time, whereas many keep the book open to emulate, setting about the task of achieving their own history.
Jerry L. Demings is the latter. Demings has become living, walking, law abiding and law enforcing history. He made history as the First African-American Police Chief of the City Orlando, made history once more as the first African-American Sheriff of Orange County, Florida and has recently written history the third time as the First African-American President of the Florida Sheriff’s Association.
Demings credits his upbringing in the Washington Shores community of Orlando as a prime influence in his development.
As a youth, Demings aspired to work in finance, and acquired a Bachelor’s degree in finance from Florida State University. He returned to the area shortly after, serving his native community. It was Demings’ reverence for the history of the first African-American deputies in Orange County that drove him to create and maintain that historic line of African-Americans making a difference in law enforcement.
He entered law enforcement as a street police officer, working his way through the ranks of police.
Jerry Demings has proven hard work not only pays off, it drives the path of where you wish to take yourself.
He began his career on the streets of Orlando as a police officer, yet the journey of Jerry Demings can be traced to his family and his faith. An Orlando native, Jerry L. Demings was born the youngest child of Freddie and Josephine Demings.
The young Demings graduated Jones High School and matriculated to Florida State University, where he earned a Bachelors’ Degree in Finance. Demings worked as an accountant before he recalls an older police officer he knew challenged him to want more.
“He asked me had I given any thought to becoming a police officer.” Demings said.
He gave the matter serious thought thereafter, changing from an accountant in an office, to a police officer on the street. “Through my career change, I fell in love with the people in my hometown.” Demings said.
Demings graduated from the 194th session of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Academy and studied at Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
“For a poor boy from Washington Shores, we sure shattered the glass ceiling.” He said.
As a young officer patrolling Orlando, Demings rescued individuals from burning cars and negotiated for those captive in hostage situations. “The ability to be in life saving situations were proud moments of my career.”
Demings was appointed Orlando’s first Black police chief in 1998 by then Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood. He served the City until 2002. During his tenure, crime dropped within the Orlando community, particularly violent, fatal crimes.
Demings wife, Val, repeated the history created by her husband, when she too, became the City of Orlando’s police chief, appointed by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer in 2007. She was elected as Congresswoman to represent Florida District 10.
The Demings have three sons, all of which are graduates of Florida A&M University.
Prior to being Sheriff, Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty appointed him as the Director of Public Safety for Orange County in October 2002. He oversaw several Orange County Departments including the Jail, Fire Department, Public Safety Communications and Emergency Operations. He had combined budgetary oversight of over $320 million and nearly 3,200 employees.
Sheriff Demings was appointed to the FEMA National Advisory Council in July 2014 and will serve through August 2018. He was also appointed by the Chief Justice to the Florida Supreme Court’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Task Force and served on the Governor’s Stand Your Ground Task Force.
He’s taken the fight to Washington, DC, speaking before Congress to secure funding that will provide the equipment needed to keep our neighborhoods and families safe. Today, when a deputy answers a call, they do so with new computers, body worn cameras and with GPS devices to improve response times.
Demings made history again in July 2016, when he was unanimously elected by the Florida sheriffs as the President of the Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA). The FSA was founded in 1893 and Sheriff Demings is the first African American to lead the organization in 123 years. He plans to play a significant role in the national and statewide public policy discussions associated with the police/community relations and the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
He volunteers at his church and several non-profit agencies, and is active with Omega Psi Phi, Sigma Pi Phi and Alpha Phi Omega Fraternities. “I love working with community-based organizations that are committed to making the world a better place for present and future generations,” said Demings.
“I’m proudest of meeting the expectations of my parents’ dreams for their children. They were blue collar workers and they wanted me to have a better education and a better life than them. My mother taught me to be humble and to treat people with dignity and respect. My father taught me to persevere and to overcome challenges and never forget to help someone along life’s journey. Demings said.
“I’m proud that they have lived long enough, with both of them being 94, to see the fruits of their labor.”