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I serve as the executive director of Family Services of Metro Orlando and recently read the article "The Least of Us" in the July 26 issue. I felt compelled to contact you for an introduction to FSMO and the local child welfare system as well as to clarify roles. First, I appreciate the focus of the Orlando Weekly on the state of child welfare in Central Florida. We at FSMO believe there are many different models of legal representation and advocacy for Central Florida's most vulnerable citizens.

While Jerry Pitzer was quoted on behalf of FSMO, he is associated with the child welfare system as the president of the Orange County Foster Parent Association and does not represent the views of FSMO. He is a very dedicated advocate for foster children and his thoughts should be credited to his role.

As you may know, FSMO is the community-based care lead agency in Orange and Osceola counties, overseeing foster care and adoption services among others. The purpose of community-based care is to shift the responsibility of direct child welfare services from the Department of Children and Families to lead agencies around the state to improve the safety and well-being of children. Since our inception in 2002, we've experienced several successes as a result of this model, including significant reductions in the number of children placed in out-of-home care, an increase in the number of children placed with relatives and an increase in the number of foster homes. Moreover, we launched Metro Orlando's first Heart Gallery, a traveling photo exhibit of children waiting for adoption from our community.

We work with the community's most vulnerable children and want to seize every opportunity to recruit foster or adoptive parents or share good news about successful kids.

Gregory Kurth
Executive Director, FSMO


How interesting that Orlando Police Department Lt. William H. Wood, in his response to comments made by George Crossley in Orlando Weekly's article on Orlando CopWatch `"Watching the watchers, Aug. 2`, expended so much effort correcting Mr. Crossley's apparent mistake about the number of sworn officers employed by the department. It seems that Lt. Wood wants to deflect attention away from the broader implications of CopWatch; namely, that a significant number of local citizens don't trust many of the police and sheriff's deputies who are supposed to protect them to do their jobs in a professional and unbiased manner, and to use force, whether lethal or nonlethal, as a last resort.

Those citizens are taking to the streets legally and peacefully to monitor the local constabulary. They believe the police should be accountable to those who pay their salaries and who can suffer when they act improperly.

It's irrelevant whether on any given night all 1,100 or 700 or however many sworn OPD officers, or however many Orange County Sheriff's Deputies, know that Orlando CopWatch is on the streets. What matters is that they are aware that Orlando CopWatch may be out there, and they, by their own accounts, are adjusting their behavior accordingly, to the mutual benefit of the public and their careers.

If Lt. Wood has "yet to see even a hint of systemic or organizational corruption or brutality" in the OPD or other local law enforcement agencies, perhaps he's willfully overlooking problems or simply can't understand what it's like to be on the powerless side of an encounter with law enforcement, particularly if you live in a poor community of color. Orlando CopWatch continues to receive a steady trickle of complaints from citizens residing in certain areas about harassment, racial profiling and excessive force, and patrols those areas so that citizens there may begin to feel a small measure of peace and safety.

Ben Markeson
Participant, Orlando CopWatch


In our Aug. 2 story "Watching the watchers," we quoted George Crossley as saying the Orlando Police Department had 1,100 sworn officers. The actual number is 751.

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