FL Legislature approves police reform package; Black lawmakers call it a first step but ‘keep watching’

People in Philadelphia protest the police killing of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, just miles from Minneapolis where George Floyd was murdered last May by policeman Derek Chauvin, convicted last week of murder. Credit: Mark Makela/Getty

A package of policing-reform measures pushed by the Florida Legislative Black Caucus in response to police killings of unarmed Black people was approved Thursday in the Florida Senate and now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis for final review.

The state House approved the bill Monday.

On the Senate floor Thursday, Black senators said the reforms fall short of what is needed to cure an epidemic of police brutality — mainly because the legislation lacks penalties to compel enforcement — but that they represent a first step.

“There may be some concern that this bill does not go far enough. … We should tell the world, keep watching,” said Sen. Darryl Rouson, a Democrat who represents parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Broward-Dade Democrat, said Florida lawmakers should do more to protect people of color from disproportionate use of excessive force and deadly force by law enforcement officers.

“We need to come together and do true police reform,” Jones said, calling on lawmakers to lend their support to passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is awaiting action in the U.S. Senate.

The police reform bill in Florida followed events last year after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was murdered by a now-convicted Minneapolis police officer. The murder, in which officer Derek Chauvin killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck for roughly nine minutes, was recorded on video by bystanders and viewed around the world, sparking widespread protests led by the supporters of Black Lives Matter.

The police-reform package, House Bill 7051, negotiated as a compromise between Black Democrats and Republican leaders, was approved 40-0 in the Senate without amendments and will be forwarded to the governor.

The policing-reform package sponsored in the House by Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Hillsborough County Democrat, and in the Senate by Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Orange County Democrat, calls for these and other provisions:

/Sets limits on, but does not ban, use of chokeholds;

/Requiring an officer who observes another officer engaging or attempting to engage in excessive use of force to intervene;

/Requiring law enforcement agencies to report quarterly to FDLE on use-of-force incidents that result in serious bodily injury, death, or the discharge of a firearm at a person;

/Requiring applicants for law-enforcement, corrections or probation jobs to disclose their history of any pending criminal, civil, or administrative investigation;

/Requiring a law enforcement or correctional agency to maintain records on why an officer was terminated, resigned or retire;

/Requiring the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission to establish standards for police training in use of force, and requiring agencies to develop policies in proportional use of force and de-escalation techniques;

/Establishing a duty to render medical assistance to a person in custody who is injured by an officer’s use of force;

/Requires instruction on recognizing symptoms and characteristics of a person with a substance abuse disorder or mental illness and how to appropriately respond;

/Requiring independent reviews of officers’ use of force resulting in a death or the intentional firing of a firearm resulting in injury or death;

/Prohibiting a child younger than seven years of age from being arrested, except of the child commits a forcible felony;

The measures will take effect upon being signed into law.

Two components that the Black Caucus sponsored but did not get in House Bill 7051 would have required law enforcement officers to wear body cameras and use dashboard cameras, with the state helping pay for them, and would have mandated rehabilitative training for veteran officers.

A few law enforcement agencies in the state have already made changes to their use-of-force policies following the controversy over the brutal death of Floyd.

For instance, the Miami-Dade Police Department banned chokeholds in June of 2020, according to AP News, and the Orlando Police Department banned them in July, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Alfredo Ramirez, director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, made the decision there “based on feedback from the community and policing professionals.”

In addition, law enforcement officers in Florida already are required to complete certain trainings developed by the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, which comprises sheriffs, police chiefs, law enforcement officers and others. For example, officers must complete 26-152 hours of use-of-force training and 22-90 hours of de-escalation training.