Last week, Jakari Young was named the next chief of the Daytona Beach Police Department. He will be sworn in tomorrow. He spoke with PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler about his path to becoming chief, what he learned from his predecessors, and why he believes the demonstrations in Daytona Beach this summer remained peaceful.

Chuck Wexler:  Chief, did you always want to be a police officer?

Chief Young: It started back in high school. I’m originally from Hollywood, Florida, down in South Florida. Probably my greatest influence was my 10th-grade homeroom teacher, whose husband was a motor officer with the Miami Beach Police Department. I did a couple ride-alongs with him on the weekend. It was around the time that the famous designer Gianni Versace was murdered by Andrew Cunanan down on South Beach. When that happened, they put all of South Beach on lockdown, and I couldn’t do the ride-alongs anymore, but by then I had been bitten by the bug and sold on policing.

When I left South Florida and went to Daytona Beach as a college student, I knew that I was going to major in criminal justice and that I wanted to be a police officer.

The original plan was to return to South Florida and work for Miami Beach. I ended up trading Miami Beach for Daytona Beach, but it turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made.

Wexler: How long have you been with the Daytona Beach Police Department?

Chief Young:  April 9, 2021 will be 20 years for me.

Wexler: How did your career progress?

Chief Young: For a large portion of my career, I felt underestimated. I felt like nobody really saw me coming until 2006, when a brash cop named Mike Chitwood strolled in here by way of Philadelphia and Shawnee, Oklahoma. He landed in Daytona Beach and implemented Compstat. Prior to that, we were somewhat reactive. He came in and pretty much blew the place up and rebuilt it.

When we implemented Compstat, Mike wanted to know which detectives were working which jobs. And he kept hearing “Jakari Young,” so I think I caught his attention pretty early.  When he got here, I was working persons crimes. Within a year I was transferred to the robbery/homicide division, and I really found my niche investigating homicides, because I took it personally. For me it was all about being able to go back and tell the parents or spouse of the victim that the person responsible for the death of their loved one had been taken into custody. That’s what drove me.

When Chief Chitwood started telling me how he operated, I realized he was a real cop more than anything else, and I was drawn to that. It just kind of took off from there. He is my greatest mentor in law enforcement. And when you study your mentor, you end up studying your mentor’s mentor, which led me back to the retired Superintendent from Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, Mike Chitwood Sr. I took an interest in Mike Chitwood Sr. because I was trying to understand Mike Chitwood Jr. – how he operates, how he handles the media the way he does, and where he gets his passion. To learn more about my new boss, I had done a Google search for “Mike Chitwood,” never expecting that everything I saw would be about Mike Chitwood Sr. But the way they described him matched up with Mike Chitwood Jr.

Further, it led me to the late, great John Timoney. He was very similar to both the Chitwoods – in your face with extreme passion, not afraid to discipline you and jump down your throat when needed, but he’d also give you the shirt off his back. And I liked that Timoney was known for coming in and diversifying a department. He believed that it’s extremely important for the police department to reflect the dynamics of the city that it serves.

Studying Mike Chitwood Sr. and John Timoney further cemented my loyalty to Mike Chitwood Jr.

Wexler: You are making history as the first Black police chief of the Daytona Beach Police Department, but you have said, “I never set out to be the first Black anything. I set out to be the chief. That’s it. … So it’s a bonus and an honor that I am the first.” What did you mean by that?

Chief Young: I would be naïve to believe that I could make history in this city as the first Black chief and not have my race be highlighted. But I feel like it’s important for everyone to understand that I’m extremely humbled to be the first. That’s not something I want to glaze over, because I think if I glaze over this moment, it would be disrespectful to the officers in the early days, going back to the civil rights movement when Black officers couldn’t even arrest a white person. They had to call a white police officer in order to effect the arrest. Or when Blacks in general couldn’t go onto the beach side unless they had a work permit. So to see how far we’ve come, to now having a Black police chief, is huge. I stand on the shoulders of those officers who could not make that arrest, and to those folks in the city who couldn’t go to another section of the city without a work permit.

So that’s a huge accomplishment and I’m humbled to be the first, but my point was that I never set out to be the first. I just wanted to be the chief, whether I was the first or the 101st.

Wexler: How did the protests this summer impact the Daytona Beach Police Department?

Chief Young:  When you look at the incidents that occurred over the summer, with civil disturbances and weeks and months of protests, everything here was peaceful. We had a few peaceful marches and police actually marched with our protesters. I think it speaks to the work we do in this agency with regard to being transparent and investing in training, de-escalation tactics, and 21st Century policing. And I think it speaks to the fabric of the Daytona Beach community, because I know that our citizens and residents here were just as outraged as everyone else was when they saw what took place in Minneapolis. But the response here was a lot different. They weren’t going to burn the city down or let anyone else come in here and burn the city down.

We were one of the first in the state to fully outfit our agency with body cameras. We were on the front-end of ICAT training. I think all the work that Chief Chitwood started and my predecessor, Chief Craig Capri, continued is carrying over. The calmness and peace we experienced here this summer were the fruit of their labor and everything they’ve put in place.

Wexler: How was the ICAT training received?

Chief Young: I think there were some skeptics in the very beginning, but then I feel like everyone kind of understood it.  It’s kind of like body cameras. I was in the Office of Professional Standards at the time, and we only had 10 or 15 cameras initially. Chief Chitwood said he wanted those 10 or 15 cameras to go to the officers with the most uses of force. Of course they felt picked on, but once they had the body cameras and saw how their complaints went down, we couldn’t pay them to go out on the streets without body cameras.

I think it was the same thing with de-escalation, particularly ICAT. When they see what happens in other jurisdictions when they don’t de-escalate, it makes it even easier to get buy-in here.

Wexler: What’s your approach to following two successful chiefs?

Chief Young: I’ll put it to you this way: I’m going to do some renovations, but our foundation will remain the same. Our foundation is de-escalation and 21st Century policing. No matter what changes I make, the way we operate and serve our community will still center around the sanctity of human life. That won’t change. So, in the grand scheme of things, what I do may be some fresh ideas on how we engage the community, but our foundation will be the same. I would be foolish to move away from our focus on the sanctity of human life, especially with law enforcement in the spotlight in 2020.

Wexler: This is a challenging time to be a police chief. How do you feel about taking on this role right now?

Chief Young: I am a man of faith. The lyrics to an old song say, “I don’t feel no ways tired, I’ve come too far from where I started from, nobody told me that the road would be easy, I don’t believe He brought me this far to leave me.”

So you’re right, I have some nervousness about moving forward into this top spot. But I feel like my principles are where they need to be. And every day I step into this building or log onto the radio, I have one goal, which is to go home and go to sleep knowing that every decision I made was the one that was best for all involved. As long as I do that, I can’t worry about what may happen. I’ll be at peace as long as I feel in my heart that I did the right thing for all involved. My number one goal is that I will respect the office of the chief enough to risk losing that position every day. That’s by doing the right thing, not the popular thing.


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.