The O-Town Interview — Orlando Rolón

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Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon with his wife Giorgina. (Courtesy of Orlando Police Department)

The Orlando Police Department has a new chief, Orlando Rolón. A 26-year veteran with the department, Rolón has served at just about every level within the organization including as a special advisor to Mayor Buddy Dyer, commander of the Downtown Section, and nearly two decades in the Crisis Negotiation Team.

 We met downtown at Craft & Common to discuss what makes a power couple, his leadership approach, and much more.

You’ve lived in central Florida for more than four decades. What brought you to Orlando?

I was born in Puerto Rico. The first time we came here was in 1973. We moved to Union Park, and we were one of the few Hispanic families here. My mom didn’t adjust very well, so we went back to Puerto Rico about a year and a half later.

In 1977, we returned and moved to the City of Orlando. We lived over in the Englewood area. My dad was in construction, and we did that growing up. I went to Colonial High School. After high school, I went into the Marines.

I moved back to the City of Orlando and basically worked construction until I got hired by the Orlando Police Department 26 years ago. And the rest is history.

What was it like moving to a new place for you and your family?

The core of my family is my mom, my dad, my brothers, and my sister. We all moved together. That was really always the nucleus of our family. Everything else was of course important to us, but everything revolved around my immediate family, so the transition was easy.

We bonded quickly because we were a very small minority group. And in the Central Florida region, there were not a lot of Hispanics when we first moved here. When we first moved here, the largest segment of the Hispanic population were the Cubans. The Cubans were the first and the pioneers to this area. They were the ones who brought the little grocery stores like Medina’s [Grocery Store &] Restaurant.

Everyone who became someone instrumental in the Hispanic community, that’s where everyone came. Now, of course, everything has completely changed. The Puerto Rican community has become the majority of the Hispanic population. The second largest group is the Dominicans, and then, of course, Venezuelans, Colombians, and Cubans.

It’s a melting pot of people from all over the world. And one person the other day said that there are approximately 140 different cultures represented in the Central Florida community. I mean, that’s impressive. To be able to be part of a community that so inclusive, so diverse, to me is a blessing.

Who was your biggest role model?

It’s probably something that a lot of people say, but my father truly was my role model. He was always a provider and always working. He’s 80 years old today and still works, still goes out there to the construction site telling guys what to do.

From construction he evolved into having a plumbing company, and today he’ll go out there, and he’ll probably put some 20-something-year-olds to shame when it comes to doing some of the work that he does.

He’s always been a provider, a very, very religious man. He always made sure that even with four boys and one girl on a single household income, we always had food on our table.

Now during my marriage, my wife, Giorgina [Pinedo-Rolón], actually has been one of the people who has impacted my life the most. Every once in a while, you need someone to reach in and say, “Hey, you have that spark. You have that fire. You just need to light it or feel it so that you can accomplish the things that I know that you’re capable of doing.”

She was that person for me.

When you and your wife have some downtime, where might we find you?

We’re homebodies. We really love to be home. Just enjoying our house, our living room, and TV. I like to have my nice TV, my nice stereo system. I like to feel like I’m at the movies whenever I’m watching my TV.

I’m watching anything that has to do with the Do-It-Yourself Network and shows that talk about buying a home somewhere in the Caribbean … Those kinds of things are of interest to us. And we enjoy that.

Aside from that, my wife loves music. I love it too. She loves to dance. I kind of go along with it. And we do love to go cruising, believe it or not. That’s our passion.

What do you listen to when you’re in the car and at home?

Sometimes you will hear me listen to Andrea Bocelli. Sometimes Phil Collins. It’s a mix of everything from the ’70s, which was my music growing up. The neat thing for me was that I experienced the Latin culture being from Puerto Rico during my first 11 years.

And then after that, I was exposed to what was happening here at the time during the ’70s. So it’s a blend of both that basically I carried on throughout my life.

More often than not, the knob on the radio is usually controlled by my wife when she’s in the car, so whatever she listens to, I listen to.

Speaking of your wife, Giorgina is the director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs of the City of Orlando. Does this officially make you a power couple? What is it like for both of you working for the community?

Some say power couple. She’s the boss. That’s all I have to say.

We’ve been blessed in the sense that we’ve been able to connect the community, and through our work we’ve been able to have a lot of experiences where we’ve been able to be part of different things, whether it’s a celebration that is specific to our culture or the opportunity to be part of very significant events that have impacted our community like the Pulse incident. We lived through that together.

On my end, as a law enforcement officer dealing with the situation. On her end, as part of the city government with the Victims Assistance Center and the reunification process. All of that, she lived it.

Actually, people like her were affected more so than a lot of people might think. They were translating the experiences individuals had inside that nightclub. And so you literally had to relive the stories not only hearing it, but actually translating it.

To be able to go through that experience together, I think it was key to help us both cope with the situation.

December second is your first official day on the job. What are some of your areas of focus going to be?

I understand that I do have some very big shoes to fill. These individuals who have led the Orlando Police Department always left it in better shape than what it was before. And that’s going to be my goal, to do my best to be able to so.

Technology is being applied to the way we do business more so today than ever before. For example, dashboards that show the type of crime that’s occurring, where it’s occurring, and other pertinent information. That will help individual officers in a district to the supervisor managing a group of officers to the lieutenants who oversee them. We need to put those tools in the hands of the of the officers so that at their level, they can see what’s going on.

And for someone like me and the deputy chiefs and the captains within the department, we need to be able to dive into that data and basically say this is how we can best deploy resources based on the information that’s being piped in to us. Tampa’s a perfect example of using those types of tools to have a significant impact on the reduction in crime.

Collaboration with a community is also going to be key. We need to have the engagement of the community for us to be most efficient. There’s no way that a law enforcement agency can handle it all. In order for us to address the needs of our community, we need to engage our community, and our community needs to be willing to participate in the process.

The City of Orlando now has 41 homicides. That’s nearly double what we had last year. But if we look at the correlation between a lot of those tragedies, there is a common denominator among them. Drug activity, domestic violence — those are things that are impacting our homicide numbers.

I think there’s an opportunity for us to work with our community, especially our faith leaders, to be able to engage our youth on the fact that this type of violence obviously impacts a lot more people than just those involved. And I think we need to talk about those difficult subjects.

Working at OPD for more than 25 years, you’ve reported to a lot of different people. You’ve had a lot of people reporting to you. What’s a tactic you’ve used to keep things moving?

Well, early on, I was taught when you’re dealing with people, you can’t treat everyone the same. What may work for one may not work for others. But I think the most important thing for leaders to remember is you should always empower your people to make decisions on their own. If it’s legal and moral, empower them to take every opportunity to exercise their desire to be involved in a process, especially when their desire is to try to improve the way you do business.

That’s going to be my message to my people. Participate in the process and do their best to make our agency better.

Orlando is growing, and your job requires a lot of communication across jurisdictions. How do you plan to work with the different organizations like the Orange County Sheriff’s office and the different cities?

Remember the Pine Hills surge in violent crime? That’s a perfect example of what collaboration can do to address the needs of the community. The criminal element doesn’t know boundaries. They don’t know whether the jurisdictions are city or county. When that occurred, we coordinated our resources to address the violent activity. And within 30 days, crime went down. Violent incidents were reduced to almost none. We were able to show the community that basically if you properly move your resources around to address issues, you can have a significant difference.

The problem sometimes occurs when you leave those areas after an occupation. Then things tend to spike up. We need to make sure that whenever we have an opportunity to impact an area to reduce crime, we keep as many resources as we can. And also empower the community not to tolerate that type of activity.

Our citizens need to not be afraid to engage or proactively contact law enforcement to address criminal activity. And we have mechanisms in place to protect those individuals that are doing that, because rightly so, some may feel concerned for their safety. We need to educate our community on how they can be part of the process. So not just agencies working together, but the community working with the agencies is how we can be most productive.

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