Police review boards are targeted by Florida Legislature

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Tampa Police Chief logo. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (8 July 2016).

By Dara Kam ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — A Senate committee Tuesday signed off on an effort to ban review boards that investigate local law enforcement, with the sponsor of the proposal arguing that the panels are “divisive” and “second-guess” internal probes.

The proposal (SB 576) would do away with existing boards and bar counties and cities from creating panels to delve into complaints of police wrongdoing.

Bill sponsor Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that review boards are made up of “political appointees” who lack law-enforcement expertise and don’t understand the complexities of policing.

“Officers have a very tough job,” Ingoglia said before the committee’s 5-2 vote to approve the measure. “It doesn’t make sense to me that we have people second-guessing those decisions. … I think it’s time that we get rid of those civilian review boards.”

The bill would prohibit counties and municipalities from adopting or enforcing ordinances related to “the receipt, processing, or investigation … of complaints of misconduct by law enforcement or correctional officers.”

Investigations into complaints about policing are handled internally by local law-enforcement agencies and can be reviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and state or federal prosecutors. Ingoglia’s proposal wouldn’t change that, according to a legislative analysis of the bill.

Lisa Henning, a lobbyist who represents the Florida State Fraternal Order of Police, told the Senate committee that the majority of law-enforcement officers wear body cams and that protections against police wrongdoing already exist.

“This becomes very redundant, and it’s also very chilling to the officers when they are considering what agency they are going to, if they are going to be tried in the court of public opinion in addition to all of the other investigations that they are going through,” Henning said.

But critics of the proposal argued that citizen review boards ensure that police are held accountable and help build trust between law enforcement and the community.

The boards “pose no threat to law-abiding officers and often have very restricted powers,” NR Hines, a policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, told the committee, adding that “improving the public sentiment of law enforcement through local initiatives” should be state lawmakers “top priority.”

Ingoglia said citizen review boards began “popping up after the George Floyd incident.” Floyd, a Black man, died in 2021 after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

According to Ingoglia, his proposed changes would prohibit citizen boards from investigating individual complaints of alleged wrongdoing but would allow the boards to provide some input into policing.

“In the case of George Floyd, we can start a civilian review board, under this bill, and it could be we’re not discussing the actual incident that happened with George Floyd, per se, but the policies and procedures that were allowed to be used,” Ingoglia said. “That’s the stuff I think could be valuable with the civilian review board, having those discussions about policies and procedures, but stay away from the actual, specific incident that happened with the law enforcement officer.”

Gwendolyn McDaniel told the committee that she was a member of a citizen review board in Tallahassee two decades ago. She said the board dug into incidents that occurred at the Tallahassee Police Department and that members of the board were trained “on what was good policing.”

“Also, and I’m a little emotional about this, because what I heard, and I hope this is not what you meant, that a regular person cannot follow a logical set of information and come up with an unbiased opinion, and that is what we were charged to do. I don’t know what the boards evolved to at this time, but that’s what we did,” McDaniel said.

According to the staff analysis, 21 Florida cities have citizen review boards that would be affected by the bill. The cities are Bradenton, Daytona Beach, Delray Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Fort Pierce, Gainesville, Key West, Kissimmee, Lakeland, Miami, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Ocoee, Orlando, Pensacola, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee, Tampa, West Palm Beach and Winter Haven.

Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach Democrat, said he couldn’t support the bill.

“Let’s talk real talk. My concern here is that Twitter words become trigger words. I heard a few words today — defund the police, George Floyd,” Powell, who is Black, said, adding that “George Floyd comes with a certain emotional tie.”

Powell said that, in the years since Floyd’s death, “there has been a hard shift backwards.” He pointed to efforts backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature that restricted programs dealing with diversity, equity and inclusion and other measures aimed at limiting the way racism can be taught in schools.

“I dare say, to be a minority has become problematic,” Powell said. “It’s too much. I believe we should be working to build trust between law enforcement and our communities. … We should really at some point be learning how to come together.”

But Ingoglia said the boards “are divisive,” especially when they reconsider investigations that have already been completed internally and dismissed.

“I actually think that they are not serving the public well, other than to second-guess and creating a court of public perception,” he argued. “Let’s get rid of these because I do believe it is divisive and let’s start talking about the policies and procedures.”

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