Following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May and the ensuing summer of nationwide protests, the Florida Legislative Black Caucus is pushing a slew of bills for the 2021 legislative session that members say “promote fair and just” police reforms.
Among the proposals are bills that would mandate body cameras be worn by officers in every Florida law enforcement agency, set a minimum standard for police training in de-escalation tactics and require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to keep a database on excessive use of force by officers. (Body cameras are standard issue at the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and the Flagler Beach Police Department, and de-escalation techniques have been a centerpiece of the sheriff’s training approach, with only one officer-involved shooting in the past nine years and no civilian fatality since 2012.)
Whether the measures will get hearings in the Republican-controlled Legislature remains in question, as Democrats debuted the sweeping reform package with the hashtag #HearTheBills.
“If you are honest about wanting to improve policing in this state, about supporting good law enforcement officers and making our communities safer, you’ll give these ideas a chance to be heard,” House Minority Co-leader,Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, said at a news conference Tuesday.
Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, is co-sponsoring bills (SB 942 and HB 647) with Rep. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville, that Gibson said would create “a floor for training” at law enforcement agencies, including setting standards for instructing officers on excessive use of force and “vascular neck restraints.”
“We want to make sure there is humane treatment. Not every person of color is automatically wrong or guilty of something. That is the premise, it seems to be, as we exist today,” Gibson said.
Protests broke out across the country last year about police treatment of Black people after Floyd died when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck during an arrest.
Mirroring the national conversation, the proposals announced Tuesday include limiting offenses for which a “no-knock warrant” can be issued (HB 521 and SB 868) and prohibiting law-enforcement agencies from buying surplus military equipment (HB 187 and SB 878).
Another proposal (HB 6057), filed by Rep. Omari Hardy, D-West Palm Beach, looks to overhaul a “police bill of rights” in state law to try to weed out what a Democratic summary of the bills called “loopholes … that make it nearly impossible to hold bad officers accountable.”
House Democratic leaders, however, are stressing that the proposals would not seek to defund the police. Calls by some groups to defund the police became a hot-button political issue during last year’s election campaigns, with Republicans using the issue to criticize Democrats.
“If you really look at these policies, they’re not antagonistic towards law enforcement officers, they’re not antagonistic towards anyone … they’re going to protect people in communities of color. And one thing I don’t think folks are understanding is, they’re also going to protect our law enforcement officers,” House Minority Co-leader Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, said.
Some members of the Black caucus, like Rep. Dotie Joseph, D-North Miami, sounded hopeful Tuesday that achieving common ground with Republican lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis on policing measures is possible.
“While we have a marked difference of opinion with the governor on a number of issues, I think a lot of the policies that we’ve identified throughout the entire caucus, some of those are some that we may be able to reach some kind of dialogue with the governor,” Joseph said.
But the Democratic lawmakers’ proposals come as Republicans are pushing legislation in the vein of “law and order,” a rallying cry of former President Donald Trump and a centerpiece of DeSantis’ priorities heading into the 2021 session, which starts March 2.
A Republican measure that has grabbed national attention has been dubbed “anti-riot” legislation (HB 1 and SB 484) The measure was filed in both chambers on Jan. 6, the day pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, but DeSantis had teased legislation aimed at cracking down on violent protests since September.
“It doesn’t matter what banner you are flying under. The violence is wrong. The rioting and the disorder is wrong. We are not going to tolerate it in Florida. I hope maybe now we will get even more support for my legislation,” DeSantis said during a news conference Jan. 7.
But Black lawmakers plan to “fiercely fight against that bill,” Rep. Fentrice Driskell , D-Tampa, said Tuesday. Opponents of the measure say it is unnecessary and will make Black people even more vulnerable to the whims of law enforcement officers.
The News Service of Florida sought comment from GOP leaders of committees that deal with policing and criminal justice but had not received responses early Tuesday afternoon.
–News Service of Florida and FlaglerLive
Stable Genius says
Let’s be honest here. Law enforcement officers (LEOs) have a stressful job and they are who we call when we are in danger. Most LEOs are good people just doing their jobs. We are better off with them and defunding them is a terrible idea. I am not sure that this is actually a race issue. With all of the technology available, can we reduce the number of encounters between LEOs and the public? Do we really need to pull someone over for a broken tail light? Could we send them a notification and issue the owner a ticket through the mail if the light is not fixed in a timely manner? When you drive by a car on the side of the road that the police are tearing apart looking for drugs or something else, what do you think? I for one wonder why my tax dollars are being wasted. Why are we paying for this? LEOs work for us, the public, and should be accountable for their behavior. Moreover LEOs should be required to have a camera on at all times, so we can directly observe their behavior. LEOs should not be afforded additional protections and if they violate someone else’s rights, they need to be swiftly removed and prosecuted. They have no more rights than anyone else and should be treated as such. Isn’t it time to rethink how we enforce the law?
James Manfre says
As the sheriff who implemented body cameras and de-scalation training into the Flagler County’s Sheriff’s Office I strongly agree with this proposal. The fact that there has not been a use of force incidence in the county since that implementation is strong evidence it should be required in every county. I believe there should be federal legislation as well requiring body cameras and de-escalation training for all 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the country with federal dollars to assist financially in the cost. As a national speaker for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a criminal justice organization made up of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officials, this goal is a priority that often is discussed.