Fort Lauderdale’s now-former police chief has hit back at officials in the Florida city who fired him after just six months on the job, accusing him of focusing too heavily on a diversity policy in hiring and promotion.
Larry Scirotto, 48, the son of a white mother and Black father and the department’s first openly gay chief, was fired last Thursday after a city report related examples such as how he’d once pointed to a display of photos of the department’s command staff in a conference room and said: “That wall is too white” and “I’m gonna change that.”
But in an interview with Miami’s 7 NewsScirotto denied that he’d made promotions based on minority-status.
“The promotions I made of minority candidates were because they were exceptional candidates who excelled at every level of the organization, who deserved to be promoted and who were, by the way, happened to be minority – not because they were minority.”
Scirotto was sworn-in as police chief in mid-August last year. By November, the city had hired a law firm to investigate complaints. CNN obtained a copy of the report that also said Scirotto had overlooked a white man with 20 years tenure with the department, and instead narrowed the choice for a job between two men of color, and asked: “Which one is blacker?”
Interviewed by officials, Scirotto denied asking which candidate was “blacker” when deciding on the promotion, but admitted to making comments about the wall of staff photos being “too white” because, he felt, it did not reflect the ethnically diverse community the police department serves.
The report said that Scirotto had responded that the context of his comment had been “built around ‘how do I convince the community that we are an inclusive and diverse organization if this wall is so white?’”
It cited 21 witnesses on Scirotto’s hiring and promotion practices. The report concluded that “most believed that Chief Scirotto made clear his intention to promote him based on race, gender or sexual orientation” and that “almost every witness was dissatisfied” with Scirotto’s approach to promotions.
“Some believed it was about time changes were made, but stated if promotions were based on things such as race it would even hurt or undermine the people promoted,” the report said.
But Scirotto warned that “minority groups are now being treated as less than deserving. That’s not the case, and it never was.” He told CNN the report that triggered his termination from the department was “vague on the facts.”
In a statement the city said it had decided to cut ties with the police chief, who was not on a contract, saying: “After a thorough and extensive investigation of employee complaints at the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, City Manager Chris Lagerbloom has determined that it is in the City’s best interest to separate employment with Larry Scirotto.”,
Scirotto joined the department after the Fort Lauderdale police were hit by accusations of internal turmoil and use of excessive force after officers fired rubber bullets and tear gas into a crowd protesting the 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis, which sparked civil rights protests across the country and internationally.
Scirotto spent more than two decades as a police officer in Pittsburgh, and was initially welcomed in the Florida post as an outsider untouched by cronyism.
“I have a vision for the department,” Scirotto said at the time. “There are things we can do better. I know we don’t release the data publicly in a way I want to, so the public can see when we use force and the outcome of that force.”
Police union chiefs were cautious. “The department is not broken,” said union president Brandon Diaz. “It doesn’t need fixing.”
“It’s a wait-and-see attitude,” Diaz added. “The fact that he’s an external candidate leaves some unknowns. You do n’t know what he’s going to bring, or what his vision of him is and how he’s going to move the department forward.
Among reforms Scirotto planned was to create a multi-cultural liaison unit to expand officers’ roles as liaisons to key groups that have traditionally been marginalized and undeserved.
“I watched George Floyd in horror like hopefully every other law enforcement professional in America did,” he told the Sun Sentinel. “This is not a moment in time. This is a movement. We must change our tactics, our strategy, our training and the way we are accountable to the public for our actions.”
Soon after being hired, Scirotto promoted 15 officers – nine were white men, six were minorities through ethnicity or gender. Four who were not selected for promotion – three men and one woman – filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“There would have been 12 white men, one white woman and two minorities if I had promoted as the complainants say I should have,” Scirotto told the paper. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. What would the optics have been on that?”
Fort Lauderdale officials have indicated the city could rescind promotions made on Scirotto’s watch.
But the former police chief has said he plans to maintain his position on the issue. “If I die on the hill for promoting diversity, as I was charged by the city manager to do from the day I was hired, then I will sleep well at night,” he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism