The De-escalation Bill in Florida

August 28, 2021 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

The last two years have seen a rise in violence, or excessive force being used during police-citizen encounters. After the summer of 2020, protests took place across the entire country to ask for reform of the police departments. These recent events have created a tense relationship between police officers and citizens. 

Law enforcement officers have the authorization to use force in certain elevated situations. This includes restraining unruly suspects who are combating arrest or trying to control a demonstration that has turned disruptive. Police have started to come under scrutiny by the media, legislators, and even courts for using excessive force when not deemed necessary. So, the question presents itself: when is it okay for police officers to use force, and how is the State of Florida trying to combat this violent progression with police officers? 

De-Escalation Bill 

The 11th Circuit State Attorney’s office is backing legislation calling for better training of police officers. This began with the grass-roots justice reform group who are calling for the limiting of choke holds and de-escalating potentially violent confrontations with police officers. State attorneys set up the Continuing Criminal Justice Reform Commission in December of 2020. 

This reform is in response to the wake of protests that followed the death of George Floyd. The commission has received sponsorship for the legislation, which led to the creation of the bill. The bill was written in conjunction of black lawmakers as well as conservative representatives in the House. The result won favor by law enforcement organizations, lawmakers, and advocacy groups in both parties. The bill passed unanimously in the House and the Senate. 

The main focus of the bill falls on the training, specifically, new policies and rules to follow from the start of training as police or corrections officers. Florida’s Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission have been tasked with developing a training course that will be mandatory for all new recruits. Creating base guidelines as to how officers interact with citizens will hopefully create a safer environment for all of those involved.  

 So what exactly does the bill cover?

  • Banning chokeholds used by police officers, except in the case involving deadly force.
  • Providing police officers on using de-escalation techniques in encounters of police-citizens. This would include a minimum requirement of training hours imposed on police officers.
  • Implicit bias training required for police officers.
  • Attempting to improve the cultural sensitivity of police officers. 
  • The requirement of police officers to interfere if they witness a fellow police officer using excessive or unnecessary force. 
  • Enhanced training to be a part of law enforcement and correctional standards. 

Florida’s Stance on De-Escalation Bill 

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the De-Escalation Bill into legislation in June, without providing a comment to the letter. The now approved bill (HB 7051) is intended to reform law enforcement when it comes to interactions with citizens. The bill is also hoping to guide police officers to notice the signs of mental illness and drug addiction. This would allow them to have greater knowledge on how to respond appropriately to these individuals. More informed police officers can provide crisis support and care, rather than making a situation more stressful.

Florida has also had an issue with the hiring of officers who have committed past crimes, or forgiving crimes committed by officers. The minimum requirements of working as a police officer in the state of Florida make it possible to move from different agencies, regardless of penalties or past crimes. There is a lot of room for reform in Florida, one that this bill will hopefully start to tackle.

The legislation will require police officers to disclose if they have been or are currently under investigation, have been fired, or left a previous police job while under investigation. Police officers will be required to mandate screenings for applicants of future police officers, to see if they have been investigated in the past. There will be annual reports made to the Department of Law Enforcement of any instances of use-of-force incidents causing injuries, involving a firearm, or resulting in death. It will also prohibit the arrest of any child under the age of 7, except in extreme circumstances.

Still Room for Improvement 

The Legislature of the State of Florida states that promoting effective policing and correctional practices fulfills an important state interest in protecting both citizens and police officers. The requirements of this new bill should act as a minimum standard, and future policies can be adopted to exceed the current requirements of this act.

One of the major ideas addressed throughout the 2020 protests was the “defunding” of the police, or reimagining how law enforcement money was spent. Arguments made for this claimed that instead of putting money into more officers, more weapons and other miscellaneous items for the police department, money could be prioritized towards citizens. Mental health services, traffic services, and investigation services are all areas in which have been argued for finance reallocation. 

Police interactions with a person who has a mental illness is much more likely to result in excessive force. Therefore, money should be reallocated to create services to support the mental health needs of the community. Using savings to make streets safer and more user friendly, expanding public transport and infrastructure also provides a benefit to the overall community. In addition, more money towards investigative training and services could help with the overwhelming epidemic of missing and murdered members of society, especially Black, Indigenous and Trans people across the country. New investigative services could be created that use scientific, public health and sociological expertise to attend to investigations. 

The De-Escalation Bill is definitely a step in the right direction. After a summer full of protests and tense interactions with the police, it seems like a good start to create a stronger relationship between officers and citizens. The police are meant to provide the service of keeping people safe, and if this bill is a way to prevent unnecessary violence, then it seems like we should continue moving in this direction for a safer, well protected community.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney 

Don Pumphrey and the members at Pumphrey Law have years of experience representing individuals accused of crime in Tallahassee and across the state of Florida. It is an unfortunate reality that encounters with the police can turn violent and sometimes deadly. Even with new bills passed, it is important to recognize when your rights have been violated and when to seek out help. Don Pumphrey and the legal team at Pumphrey Law are prepared to fight for the rights of those who have had their constitutional rights ignored. If you or a loved one has witnessed or experienced police brutality that you believe was unlawful, call a Tallahassee criminal defense attorney today at (850) 681-777 and receive a free consultation regarding your case today.

This article was written by Karissa Key

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