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Push for Policing Reforms Expected in 2016 Legislative Sessions, But Not in Florida

| December 28, 2015

Police reforms will be keeping numerous legislatures busy in 2016, but not in Florida. (c FlaglerLive)

Police reforms will be keeping numerous legislatures busy in 2016, but not in Florida. (c FlaglerLive)

Advocates for policing reform are expected to return to statehouses next month pushing for increased scrutiny of officers, transparency in police department proceedings and improved crisis training across law enforcement ranks.

Backed by increasingly vocal public criticism following reports of police shootings and allegations of brutality in places like Chicago and Minneapolis, many civil rights advocates will ask lawmakers to revisit measures abandoned earlier this year.

Samuel Walker, a policing expert and professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said public dissatisfaction with police practices makes the upcoming legislative sessions ripe for action.

“I think we have a huge opportunity, the moment is here,” Walker said. (But so far the Florida Legislature is relatively silent on the matter. In a previous session, the Legislature restricted the availability of body camera footage to public inspection.)

The push for more changes in policing in states such as Missouri, where a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in August 2014, comes as Americans are losing confidence in police. Advocates hope the shifting public attitude can overcome opposition from police unions and law-and-order legislators who are wary of changes they fear could make policing more dangerous or paint officers as suspects right off the bat in shooting incidents.

Missouri lawmakers considered at least 50 proposals related to policing this year, but passed only one new law — to limit the revenue local jurisdictions can raise through traffic tickets.

Though national opinion is changing, passing more laws in 2016 will depend on politics — and the level of public outcry — in each state. Sarah Rossi, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, said it’s hard to tell if the legislative climate in her state will be different in 2016.

“I think the biggest hurdle is getting the point across that it’s not enough to reduce the number of tickets, fines and fees,” Rossi said. “We actually have to change the way law enforcement and community members are interacting with each other and that wasn’t really a conversation we got to have last year.”

At least 26 other states passed laws relating to police practices this year, many of which focus on the deployment of police body cameras. Several states are still crafting policies to govern how and when police use the cameras and who can access the footage. Illinois,Indiana, Texas and Washington enacted laws related to crisis intervention training for officers. Maryland and Texas set new requirements for reporting and tracking officer-involved shootings and use of force.

Last week, officials in Ohio announced they would move forward with plans for a tougher police recruit training program that is expected to include drug screening as well as physical and psychological exams. A Maryland legislative panel is on the cusp of making recommendations to reduce the amount of time officers have to comply with an internal investigation and to give the public more time to make brutality complaints against officers.

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Because the federal government has no jurisdiction over local policing, state lawmakers are ultimately responsible for reforms. As they proceed, lawmakers can look to recommendations from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, said Laurie Robinson, a George Mason University professor and former Justice Department official who co-chaired the group of police officers, academics and social justice advocates.

The task force issued a final set of recommendations in May, reflecting what Robinson and others call a “guardian mindset” that encourages law enforcement to police with the idea of protecting communities, rather than trying to control a population by threatening arrest.

The panel’s findings were issued after many states’ legislative sessions had concluded. As state legislatures return to work, starting in January, Robinson said they should pursue laws that address how police-involved deaths are investigated, make updates to police training protocols, and review and update public records laws that pertain to body-camera footage. They should also consider legislation to require local police departments to track officer-involved shootings, she said.

Montgomery County (Maryland) Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said state lawmakers need to strike a balance between reforming police practices and instituting poor polices that could hamper police work.

“Please let’s not paint the police with a broad brush,” Manger said. “Let’s not lose sight of the good work that’s being done out there every day.”

Responding to calls for more transparency and accountability, some state lawmakers want to reform how police-involved shootings are investigated, prohibiting investigations by secret grand juries and requiring police departments to participate in multiagency investigations rather than allowing a single department to investigate one of its own. The Maryland panel is also considering opening trial boards — which are made up of sworn officers and review complaints against other police officers — to the public.

The National Fraternal Order of Police supports the task force’s recommendations to increase training for officers and diversify police departments, said Jay McDonald, the group’s vice president. But he is wary of proposals to change the way officers are adjudicated.

“We agree with a lot of the things people have proposed, but we’re not going to agree with things that make our jobs more dangerous or frame us as the suspects right off the bat,” McDonald said.

Going Forward

The Colorado General Assembly passed six laws related to policing reform in 2015, largely because lawmakers were willing to discuss sensitive topics and compromise on bills that would support the state’s urban areas as well as its smaller, rural police departments, said state Sen. Ellen Roberts, a Republican.

The new Colorado laws include measures to collect information and statistics about police-shooting victims, to force police agencies to share information about disciplinary action when an officer applies for a job elsewhere, to provide police body cameras through state grants and to revamp officers’ training. A panel there is also considering whether police officers should receive psychiatric evaluations before they are hired.

Roberts said lawmakers in other states may be scared to take on police issues because sensitive conversations about race and economic disparity are needed to pass good bills.

“This is not an idea for those who are faint of heart,” Roberts told lawmakers at a National Conference of State Legislatures meeting last week. “It does take courage to step into this space.”

Useful Data

Though there is no federal standard for collecting and comparing data about use of force in local police departments, last week the FBI announced that it will expand its program for tracking fatal police shootings to include all cases of serious injury or death caused by a police officer.

Walker, of the University of Nebraska, said tracking police use of force is a first step toward developing broader reforms because it enables policymakers to compare police departments and identify patterns of excessive force.

“We know about smoking deaths, we know about cancer deaths, we know about all these things,” he said. “We can begin to figure out what kinds of interventions make a difference.”

In Colorado, Maryland and Texas, legislation was introduced this year to expand or implement a data collection law. In Texas, lawmakers charged the attorney general’s office with maintaining a database of police-involved shootings across the state.

Sixty-six people had been injured or killed by police in Texas, as of Dec. 10, since the data collection began in September. Terra Tucker, a policy analyst for the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said it is not clear when the data will be analyzed to identify trends in policing.

Lawmakers pushing for the database met some pushback from police departments that didn’t want to take the extra steps of passing the data along to state officials, but the demand for reform won out, Tucker said.

“With all the things that are going on in the country right now, there was not a lot of room for [lawmakers] to say no” to collecting the data, she said.

–By Sarah Breitenbach

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19 Responses for “Push for Policing Reforms Expected in 2016 Legislative Sessions, But Not in Florida”

  1. Outsider says:

    Maybe if people would learn how to act in a civilized society they wouldn’t have any interaction with the police at all. While there are isolated cases of bad policing, for the most part they do a good job protecting the public from the thugs that take over shopping malls and rob and loot. It says a lot when the Michael Brown case is repeatedly mentioned as an example of why policing needs reform, when in fact it’s a great example of what not to do if you want to stay alive.

  2. Billy Bob Boo says:

    People need to concern themselves more with how they’re being played by the bought out media. Liberal media outlets love to sway stories to the far left or right in order to gain popularity, don’t be a statistic, and don’t drink the Kool-Aid that these sites spew. Tragic that our media does a better job of breaking us down and segregating us rather than focus on the real issues that plague the country. But, what else would you expect from an outlet that literally makes it profit from the covering of death and destruction, never once will you witness a piece that’s uplifting and spiritual.

  3. Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

    5 minutes of googling the Miami Gardens police department and the Florida department of corrections should be enough for everyone to realize that Florida needs major police reform.

  4. Dave says:

    Just my opinion but the media at times blows things so over the top that it slants the truth all for their ratings.

  5. Sherry says:

    OK. . . and the 12 year old. . . Tamir Rice playing with a pellet gun in a park across from his home in Cleveland. I suppose he did not know “how to act in a civilized society”. He was IMMEDIATELY shot by police, NO questions asked. Then they rendered NO medical assistance as he lay dying. And they did not even get a grand jury to say the police did anything wrong.

    A civilized society. . . really??????

  6. Derrick R says:

    The two previous post are 100% spot on Correct. Do as instructed when contact is made with any enforcement agency. The time and place for recourse is in the court system not the streets. If people choose to play stupid games then they’re going to win stupid prizes.

  7. Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

    Regarding the tamir rice case, I wonder when the NRA is going to get involved. Ohio doesn’t require that toy guns have orange tips, and it’s an open carry state. Rice was shot while his toy was in his waistband, in open view. What about the second amendment? What about his civil rights?

  8. Geezer says:

    Cops are people too…….good and bad.
    That’s why reform is needed.

    Very simple concept.

  9. Sherry says:

    Excellent point Samuel! Really! If Tamir were an old white guy, the NRA would have been all over this. . . shouting about the second amendment!

    Geezer. . . as usual, you are right on! One reckless/poorly trained/bigoted police officer’s terrible actions damage the reputation of the entire force and destroy all trust of them in the community. The good cops that are laying their lives on the line every day, should be the first ones demanding reform!

  10. Gkimp says:

    Samuel, he clearly attempts to draw the gun as police pull up, so the “open carry” laws do not apply. If you are approached by law enforcement and you are armed, openly, or with a concealed carry permit; put your hands on the air and declare, “I am legally armed”! Pretty simple. Back in the 60’s when I was a kid, my brothers and I had every toy gun imaginable; my mother and father would not allow us to leave our yard with them. Today, 12 year olds in Cleveland and across the country carry and sometimes use real weaponS. There is no other occupation where part of your daily job is to be assaulted, stabbed, or shot at. Officers have to have the ability to protect themselves. Citizens should resoect that and comply with police orders even when they believe the officer is wrong at the time. That’s why we have judges. This is certainly a tragedy and a civil pentalty will be paid, but these officers, as most do, acted reasonably with the information they had at the time.

  11. Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

    No he didn’t. Did you even watch the video?

  12. Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

    Flagler county: where shooting black 12 year olds is apparently “ok”

  13. Sherry says:

    OK. . . rolling up, without observing anything from a distance, and immediately, without assessing the situation, opening fire on an obvious child. . . without even shouting “drop the gun”. . . then, rendering NO immediate medical life saving assistance. . . that is acting reasonably???? WOW! What a great example of the underlying problems that are a cancer in our country!!!

  14. retired says:

    Wow, that’s your example that indicates reform is needed. An over zealous officer shouldn’t be your benchark. I wish you people didn’t paint with broad brushes. In 32 years I pulled my weapon maybe 10 times and never had to use it. In addition I never faced an excesdive use of force investigation. Agencies need to step up their recruiting practices and standards as well as their in house FTO Programs to weed out the bad ones before something unfortunate happens. But let me remind you all, no matter what you implement as far as reforms, nothing can ever anticipate the human factor and that we always have free will. Because of that, even good people will make wrong or bad decisions every now and then.

  15. Sherry says:

    @ retired you are to be commended, as are most other officers of the law. We can all but strive to do better. . . no matter what our profession. Reforms are certainly needed in our policing culture, for the safety and well being of the police as well as “all” civilians.

    In our current “armed to the teeth. . . cause I can be”. . . fear filled, macho, culture. . . all law enforcement officers’ daily work lives are at a very high risk. . .maybe higher than ever before. I can certainly understand why they would feel stressed and anxious. All the more reason for better selection processes and better training for those serving. . . AKA reforms. Believe me, I often speak about about the need for much, much better gun safety regulations. . . and against having any kind of semi-automatic weapons in the civilian population.

    BUT. . . I must point out that in the chosen profession of law enforcement the good people making “wrong or bad decisions every now and then”, have much more dire consequences that the vast majority of other professions. By their actions, they control the life and health of those they are hired and trained to serve and protect.

    Also, I respectfully disagree. . . while wearing that uniform, police do NOT have “free will”. . . they are required to act according to their training. . . and most certainly not to act as judge and executioner.

    There is certainly NO defense to be made under any circumstances for NOT rendering life saving CPR or other medical assistance to a child dying before you. And leaving the victim dying with no immediate assistance is one of the many common threads in the all too many incidents of this nature that happen in our country almost every day!

    Videos of these tragic, horrific incidents are uncovering and factually documenting deep rooted problems in our policing culture. To try and pretend that the Tamir Rice tragedy is an anomaly or just collateral damage during a time of . . . what?. . . war. . . on who? On our civilian population? Is just plain wrong!

  16. Gkimp says:

    Sherry, while I certainly respect your opinions, please consider some additional information from a veteran LEO. The news, have taken a localized problem, isolated to large urban cities with many more problems then just these incidents and painted a wide brush on all of law enforcement. The overwhelming majority of over 10,000 law enforcement agencies and in excess of 100,000 officers nationwide go out and “do good” in their communities daily. The most visible agency in government is the uniformed police officer. Citizens lash out at officers and officers respond with force, enough force not only to end that incident, but to discourage others from “attacking” or resisting their efforts. Do some police departments need reform, sure, but those reforms should not be forced the rest of law enforcement. Do you punish all your children when one screws up? The reforms needed go way beyond the police departments in these communities. People have no respect for themselves, let alone others and the police. The media is playing on your good nature and your emotions Sherry. You look for the good in others, unfortunately, there are some really bad people in this country, people who you have hopefully not ever encountered, that is the people who these officers deal with daily in the inter-city. Does it out a rough edge on some, sure it does, and that problem needs some refirm, maybe officers should be rotated out of the worse neighborhoods. These police incidents are a symptom of a much larger problem, if you treat the symptom and not the cause, you never heal the real problem.

  17. footballen says:

    Bronkowitz, who the hell ever told you it was ok to shoot anyone on Flagler County? I take extreme offense to that!!!!!!!!!! In Flagler County just weeks ago an armed woman pointed a gun at 3 deputies and motioned as if she was preparing to kill them. Had she pulled the trigger a deputy would very likely be dead today. Think about that. Some young member of our society who dedicated themself to going through all of the training and scrutiny that comes with that job for such little pay. Someone who dedicated themselves to doing good for people. Someone who made about $2.00 for the time they spent tending to that call. They stared sure death in the face, they chose to die instead of make what could turn out to be a mistake and you make a statement like that? Each of them should spit in your face!

  18. Samuel L. Bronkowitz says:

    Without a doubt, many police do good in their communities. The issue here is that the bad ones are usually only gotten rid of when their “bad” attracts the attention of the media. So yeah, you’re right in that regard: these things are being brought to light because of the media.

    Likewise, reform isn’t punishment. Reform sets in place regulations and procedures that help contain and fix an issue. If one of your children screws up you don’t punish all of the kids, but as a responsible parent you set ground rules past that incident so it doesn’t happen again. It should also be noted that police reform wouldn’t be necessary if police officers and their corresponding administrators dealt with incidents in a timely and proper manner.

    As an example, look at the Miami Gardens police department. They incentivized stop and frisks amongst their officers. Between 2008 and 2013 there were almost 100,000 stop and frisks (none led to arrests), with a 4 year old and a 99 year old being deemed “suspicious.” Earl Sampson was stopped and frisked over 200 times, and was arrested 71 times for trespassing at his own place of work. He was actually IN JAIL and an officer wrote a contact report at the same time, alleging they had stopped and frisked him outside. Their former police commander of operations told them to stop and frisk every black male they saw, and when they brought in a new police chief to mitigate some of the blowback he lasted about a year and was fired for soliciting prostitutes.

    And look at how easy it is for problem officers to leave one department and head to another, with almost no issues at all. Palm Beach Shores police department has an officer named Charles Hoeffer on paid administrative leave (he’s been there for over 20 months) because he’s being investigated for a 2014 rape. Which is nothing new for him, because between 1995 and today he’s been with three different police agencies in florida and he’s been the subject of numerous accusations of rape, improper contact, and sexual harassment out in the field AND in the office. He was fired in 1995 for one, but had his firing reversed during arbitration. He also resigned in 1991 because he kicked his wife in the face and broke her nose and lied to investigators about it and was immediately hired by a different department. He also had his license suspended for awhile in 1993 for assault, and yet he kept his job.

    There. Two simple examples from here in florida, showing how reform is needed. If you want more examples, look at the waldo speedtrap debacle, or Jeremy Banks, or the Brenton Butler case, or hell just look at the trouble officers that Flagler Beach, Bunnell, and FCSO have had.

  19. Sherry says:

    Thanks for reading my post and for your highly credentialed thoughts Gkimp. I am honored by your thoughtful response.

    Perhaps because I have traveled so extensively world wide and lived for 30 years in other states. . . beyond my home state of Florida, what happens nationally and internationally is deeply meaningful and important to me. I see and understand cultural and political trends and tragedies as being interwoven into a much larger image than just what impacts our local community and state. Although I am a woman, my views are from first hand intellectual perspectives. . . not merely a media driven, emotional one.

    While we are fortunate here in Florida that problems with our policing culture are not as extensive as many other places in our country, we should be concerned and pro-active in learning the lessons from where ever they can be taught.

    On that note. . . I was shocked to hear that not all police officers in Chicago carry tasers. . . that mayor just doubled the number of available tasers from 700 to 1,400. What? A taser should be standard issue for every single law enforcement officer. Yes, officers should be routinely rotated out of the worst neighborhoods. Also, more diversity in the policing force needs to be implemented. The Federal investigation’s findings of commonplace abuse of the black population in Ferguson is also shocking!

    Yes, it is a complex issue. Yes, there will always be bad people that have “no respect for themselves, let alone others and the police”. BUT. . . racial discrimination is prevalent in our culture and racial profiling in our law enforcement culture is a huge problem nationwide. Blaming the victims for not behaving in a civilized manner (as some commenting here have done) is patently unfair and unjust.

    We need to, at every level, actually “implement” EQUALITY, as a nation!

    1. Equal Education= with tax monies being moved to “private” charter and religious schools=segregation
    2. Equal Justice= just look at the race of those in the prison population=NO Equal Justice. The poor and disenfranchised cannot make bail (even if innocent) and often end up loosing their jobs and even homes.
    3. Equal Access to jobs= (my profession as a recruiter for 20 yrs) massive discrimination by race and gender. . . a black woman stands little chance of career advancement

    I could go on and on. . . but my point is that since our citizens of all races are not given equal opportunities on all levels, we should not be standing in judgement that “they should act civilized” and behave according to the rules established by the white race.

    I equate this to the discussion of gun violence. Yes, guns don’t kill people. . . people kill people. But, implementing and enforcing “real” gun safety regulations on the “federal” level is much more expedient, effective, and efficient that giving “lip service” (and not actually funding) better mental health care.

    And the battle against terrorism. . . let’s find and deal with the active ones today. . . while also creating solutions to stop radicalization to begin with. . . which will take much longer.

    We must deal with the obvious need for law enforcement AND justice reform today. . . while also creating solutions for true racial integration and equality in the longer term. We must DO BOTH!

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