Citizen review boards nixed under DeSantis-authorized legislation

by | Apr 12, 2024

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation on Friday that restricts civilian oversight boards from conducting their own investigations into police misconduct, only permitting them to review internal police findings, and bans them from summoning officers for testimony.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation on Friday that substantially limits the powers of civilian oversight boards to independently investigate police misconduct in Florida.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Wyman Duggan, mandates that these boards can only review the findings of internal police investigations and prohibits them from conducting their own inquiries. The legislation also prevents civilian boards from summoning law enforcement officers for testimony, a practice previously employed by some boards to ensure accountability.

In addition to limiting the investigatory powers of civilian boards, the new law permits sheriffs and police chiefs to form oversight boards. These boards are allowed to review departmental policies and procedures but are restricted to advisory roles without investigative authority. Moreover, the law increases the base salary for Florida’s county sheriffs by $5,000.

“Any municipality could have a handful of people on a city council that would do dumb things,” DeSantis said during a press conference, in reference to review boards. “They’ll stack it with activists and they’ll just start reviewing things and trying to put people under the gun even if there’s no basis to do that. So we view that as very much a political weapon. We don’t think that that will contribute to public safety at all.”

During deliberations on the bill, opponents voiced concerns about the erosion of police accountability and transparency that could result from the new restrictions. They argued that civilian oversight is critical to maintaining public trust and ensuring that police departments are held accountable, particularly in cases of excessive force or misconduct.

A late-filed amendment to the bill permits sheriffs and city police departments to establish and select members for their own civilian review boards, which will evaluate their policies and procedures, but not misconduct, with a stipulation that one member of the board must be a retired law enforcement officer.

“If the chief decides who serves on those civilian review boards, why wouldn’t they choose people who are not going to be aggressive in their reviewing?” Asked Rep. Anna Eskamani during a March 7 House floor vote. “Is there concern about accountability if you’re picking those that will be friendly on that board?”

DeSantis on Friday also signed a bill to bolster protections for first responders by criminalizing actions that impede, threaten, or harass them while they are performing their duties.

Sponsored by Sen. Bryan AvilaSenate Bill 184 (SB 184) targets individuals who approach within 25 feet of a first responder after being warned to keep their distance. The legislation is designed to ensure that law enforcement officers, correctional probation officers, firefighters, and emergency medical care providers can carry out their responsibilities without interference, according to the Avila.

The bill’s passage comes amid growing concerns over the safety of first responders at emergency scenes, where chaotic situations can escalate if bystanders do not maintain a safe distance. Sen. Victor Torres, a former law enforcement officer, voiced strong support for the bill during a prior committee stop.

“The bill provides that it is a first degree misdemeanor for any person, after receiving a warning not to approach from a first responder who is engaged in the lawful performance of a legal duty, to violate the warning and approach or remain within 14 feet of the first responder,” reads a House legislative analysis.

During Floor debate, Sen. Bobby Powell — the lone dissenting vote — expressed reservations that the 25 feet of space could prevent actions like accountable recording of police interactions.


%d bloggers like this: