Neptune Beach lawmaker who sponsored police reform bill hopes it addresses ‘lack of trust’

Bill unanimously passes both chambers of Florida Legislature, awaits Gov. signature

Neptune Beach lawmaker who sponsored police reform bill hopes it addresses ‘lack of trust’
Neptune Beach lawmaker who sponsored police reform bill hopes it addresses ‘lack of trust’

As calls for police reform continue and people are watching the movements of law enforcement now more than ever, a bill addressing use of force and police employment requirements unanimously passed both chambers of the Florida Legislature this week.

While much of the state’s attention has been focused on the anti-riot bill (HB 1) that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last week, HB 7051 addresses the practices of law enforcement.

Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, who co-sponsored the police reform bill in the House, said both bills work together to ensure criminal justice and public safety.

“No one dislikes a bad cop more than a good cop. And so obviously, with the events of the past year, and talking to my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, we felt that this was something that we could do to send a message to Floridians that we’re going to have that -- we’re going to expect of our law enforcement that they have the highest standards possible,” Byrd said. “We feel that lack of trust, because of the events of the last year and wanted to address it.”

House Bill 7051 says if an officer is fired from one agency for potential misconduct, they can’t misrepresent what happened and they must share that information if they apply for another law enforcement job.

It also requires standards to be created for use of force police training, such as de-escalation, proper use of force instruction, limiting chokeholds, and the duty to intervene in other officers’ excessive use of force.

Chokeholds would be limited “to circumstances where the officer perceives an immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death to himself, herself, or another person” under the bill.

Steve Zona, president of the Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police, said the law makes policies consistent across the state.

“In order for us to be successful, we have to keep up with the best industry standards, for lack of a better word, we have to keep up with the expectations of the community,” Zona said.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, acknowledged the dangers that police officers face on the job but said training can help avoid negative interactions with the public.

“Those law enforcement officers, correctional officers -- they’re our family, they’re our friends, they’re our church members, they’re our neighbors. They’re not perfect, and none of us are. They go into harm’s way on a daily basis. But, those things that we’ve seen nationally could have been avoided. That’s where the training and standards come in,” Gibson, who is Black, told the News Service of Florida.

When use of force occurs, agencies would also be required to have the case reviewed by an agency that did not employ the officer.

An organizer with the Jacksonville Community Action Committee said the law is a step forward, but it’s not the accountability they’ve been calling for.

“We really need for this to be community-based control, you know, not just the state,” Maria Garcia said. “It’s common knowledge that police protect each other and this country, so it might not be within the same police department. But if you’re still employing other police…”

Byrd said the bill helps weed out bad officers and ensure the best training.

Bryd said not all agencies are reporting use of force data to the FDLE, but this law will require it, mirroring statistics collected by the FBI’s National Use-Of-Force Data Collection. The data would have to be reported to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement each quarter.

Gibson backed the provision related to data collection as the Senate debated the bill Thursday.

“As a state, we should require the data that we ask for. Because that data will also show us where additional training is needed, where additional standards are needed. And nobody should want to reject that,” Gibson said.

The bill also requires training for officers to identify and properly respond to people suffering from substance abuse or mental illness.

If DeSantis signs the bill, which he is expected to, agencies will require changes to the application process starting July 1. In July of 2022 agencies will have to start reporting stats to the FDLE. Then by July 2023, the training agency has to come up with a new curriculum.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat who sponsored the bill along with Byrd, contrasted it with the controversial “anti-riot” bill, which Republicans said was needed to crack down on violent protests, but Democrats said would violate First Amendment rights and pose a threat to peaceful protesters.

“This legislation (HB 7051) stands in stark contrast to the dangerous anti-protest bill that Gov. DeSantis signed into law recently. It represents what can happen when we legislate with everyone’s best interests in mind. This bill is just the beginning and we will continue fighting for fair and just policing in Florida,” Driskell, who is Black, said in a statement.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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