In a legislative session marked by party-line culture war legislation and hyperpartisanship, the bipartisan passage of a police reform measure in both chambers was a welcome surprise. The Senate passed the bill 40-0 Thursday. The House passed it 113-0 Monday.
The bill (HB 7051) would require police agencies to set new, stricter standards on officers’ use of force. It would set statewide policies that include training in alternatives to the use of force, including de-escalation techniques. It bars chokeholds unless an officer sees “an immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death.” It would recognize the duty of officers to intervene on seeing another office engaging in excessive force.
READ THE BILL: Analysis of police reform legislation
It would ensure that when police are disciplined, their records will follow them when they get jobs with different police forces. Under current rules, bad cops can jump from city to city without their new employers finding out about their disciplinary record.
And it requires law enforcement agencies to issue quarterly reports detailing use-of-force incidents that result in serious bodily injury, death, or shooting at a suspect. At present, it’s hard to find out how often police use force in arrests.
Finally, it would prohibit a child younger than 7 from being arrested, charged or adjudicated delinquent unless their actions rise to the level of a forcible felony. There have been far too many instances of little kids being arrested and handcuffed at Florida schools.
Police reform did not appear on either chamber’s to-do list at the start of the session. But to their credit, the leadership listened to members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus who have been continually frustrated at the lack of hearing their policing proposals had received.
To be sure, this measure was not as strong as most of the measures that had been advanced by the caucus. “Many people have said that we haven’t gone far enough, but this is a step. I just believe that we can continue to build upon this work here,” said Sen. Bracy Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee.
The death of George Floyd and others have sparked a nationwide movement toward police reform. Since Floyd’s death, 16 states have acted to limit police use of neck restraint. The least Florida should do would be to join them.
The bill begins the needed work of changing the culture of policing and should not be dismissed as a half-measure. It would have sent a decidedly bad message if the Legislature enacted its anti-riot bill, which was drafted as a move against Black Lives Matter protests, but did nothing at all to address the police killings that have been sparking waves of protest since Floyd was killed last May.
This measure should help build the community trust that police depend upon to be effective. Conscientious members of law enforcement — including many of our local leaders — are unfairly tarred by the actions of the few bad actors within their ranks. This legislation, and hopefully the future legislation that builds on this, should work to better police the police.
The bill now goes to the governor for his approval. Gov. Ron DeSantis so far has been oddly silent on this important legislation. Its unanimous passage should have sent the message that this is a thoughtful response to an issue of urgent public concern. He needs to sign the bill.
Editorial written by The Daytona Beach News Journal on behalf of the USA TODAY Network-Florida.