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FL activists protest proposal that would abolish civilian review boards

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FL activists protest proposal that would abolish civilian review boards

Feb 20, 2024 | 7:04 pm ET
By Mitch Perry
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FL activists protest proposal that would abolish civilian review boards
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Protestors gathered in front of the old capitol building in Tallahassee to protest proposals to ban citizen review boards (Photo credit: Mitch Perry)

Three dozen activists gathered in front of the old Capitol building in Tallahassee on Tuesday, registering their displeasure against a measure that would ban cities and counties from forming civilian police oversight boards and dissolve already-existing boards.

Similar bills in the House (HB 601) and Senate (SB 576) have been moving through committee hearings and likely will be voted on by both chambers. If approved, the bills will go to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk. If he were to sign the measure, all 21 currently existing citizens review boards would be dissolved in Florida.

FL activists protest proposal that would abolish civilian review boards
Jacksonville activist Michael Sampson (photo credit: Mitch Perry)

“Civilian oversight works,” said Michael Sampson, with the Jacksonville Community Action Committee. “Civilian oversight makes it so that officers have to understand that if they do something crazy, it’s going to be the public looking at them…if they take away our right to even have oversight review over what police do, what else are they coming for? This is the stripping of our democratic right to control how our communities are policed.”

There are more than 150 civilian oversight agencies across the country, according to a National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement report published in 2021.  Of the 21 organizations in Florida. half of them were formed since the protests over the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, according to a 2022 report.

The protest Tuesday was organized by Students for Democratic Society.

“We saw civilian review boards pop up in Lakeland, Florida, ” said Sampson. “That is not known as a bastion of left-wing activism.”

Activists in Florida have complained that civilian review boards lack teeth because they don’t have subpoena witnesses and documents, and none have any actual disciplinary power. “They don’t want police review boards that have any power,” said Wells Todd with Take Em Down Jax, a group involved with bringing down Confederate monuments in Jacksonville. “They don’t want those. So it’s time to seriously fight back.”

FL activists protest proposal that would abolish civilian review boards
Republican State Rep. Wyman Duggan, representing part of Duval County. Credit: Florida House of Representatives

But Jacksonville Republican Wyman Duggan, the sponsor of the bill in the House, has said there is a need for the proposal because there are no “uniform standards” among the 21 different police oversight agencies across Florida.

He was called out specifically by a couple of the protesters on Tuesday.

“Shame on politicians like Wyman Duggan, who attack police accountability. Who say that it’s too much for us to have the barest limits democracy in the state of Florida,” said Delilah Pierre, with the Tallahassee Community Action Committee. “Community oversight is the smallest, barest first step to preventing the atrocities and the casualties that we’ve seen from policing in Florida and the United States of America.”

The Senate version of the bill (SB 576) is being sponsored by Hernando County Republican Blaise Ingoglia.  It also says that a county sheriff may establish a civilian oversight board to review the policies and procedures of his or her office and its subdivisions. It could range between three and seven members appointed by the local sheriff.

The cities in Florida that currently have citizens review boards 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.