Usually when we think of police accountability and divestment from policing, the focus is at the community level. This is not without reason. Most police departments and their budgets are managed at a municipal level. In Florida though, any true discussion of police accountability, divestment and reinvestment must include a discussion of police lobbying for state and federal funding and mechanisms in the Florida Constitution that promote over-policing, systemic racism, and lack of accountability for police misconduct.
Florida currently has an incarceration rate of 833 per 100,000 people, including prisons, jails, immigration detention, and juvenile justice facilities. While Florida’s overall population has tripled in the last 40+ years, its incarcerated population has grown by 10 times in that same timespan, with Black and brown people incarcerated at extremely disproportionate levels. Much of this is driven by policing, bail, and sentencing policies created at the state and local levels, administered by the judicial system.
Criminal justice reform activists across the state are collectively working to reduce sentences, expand rehabilitation credits for incarcerated individuals, and end unaffordable bail. All of these efforts become even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic as vulnerable individuals are being handed potential death sentences due to continued incarceration in crowded local jails and Florida prisons.
Unfortunately, criminal justice reform alone will not end the problem of over-policing in Florida. In order to achieve real police accountability and police divestment in Florida, two critical changes must be made: Florida Statute 112.532 - the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights must be amended, and the Florida Police Benevolent Association (Florida PBA - the police union) outsized lobbying influence must be reigned in.
In the early 1970’s, at the height of the Black power and women’s rights movements, 14 states across the nation, including Florida, passed a Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR). In Florida, LEOBOR protects officers from the normal process other citizens undergo. Instead, police and correctional institution officers, including those working in juvenile facilities, have the following additional rights and advantages when they are accused of misconduct or facing disciplinary action:
- Officers get a special “cooling off” period and any interview is restricted to a “reasonable hour” with “reasonable rest periods” inside the accused officer’s precinct or correctional institution.
- Before the accused officer can be interviewed, they have the right to know the names of their accusers and to review all of the evidence against them, including witness testimony.
- Unlike a member of the public, the accused officer can only be interrogated by one person, and if the accused officer is threatened with “disciplinary action” or punishment at all during the interrogation the entire case must be dismissed.
- Officers accused of misconduct also get to choose who investigates them. The accused officer can only be investigated by a three member “complaint review board” made up of 1) a person the accused officer chooses, 2) the agency’s chief administrator, and 3) a third member chosen by these two. Precincts with more than 100 officers add two additional members chosen by the administrator and the accused officer.
- While the Florida BPA has opposed efforts to require interrogations of the public be recorded, interrogation of police officers facing discipline must be recorded - and they must be given the recording within 72 hours.
Even our children aren’t treated with this level of care when they are interrogated by police.
Legal provisions laid out by LEOBOR create unnecessary restrictions and inhibit disciplinary action for officer misconduct, police brutality and racial profiling. LEOBOR creates more frequent use of force and over-policing in Black and brown communities. Conflict of interest is inherently written into the statute and “no other group of public employees enjoys equivalent legislation related to disciplinary matters" leaving police and correctional officers above the law and nearly untouchable, even--or especially--when they commit racist acts of murder.
To make things worse, LEOBOR in Florida is used in conjunction with union organizing and police union representation to aggressively protect the rights of police accused of misconduct and force arbitration hearings behind closed doors. We have seen this in Tallahassee recently regarding the murder of a black transgender man Tony McDade by police officers. LEOBOR has been used to restrict the release of body camera footage and even the release of the involved officers’ names. These local battles are supported by statewide legislative initiatives pushed by the Florida PBA that undermine accountability and block reform of criminal justice and policing.
In 1993, the Florida PBA advocated and passed legislation in Florida extending LEOBOR to all Florida deputy sheriffs. In 2000, 2007, 2009 Florida PBA again strengthened and extended LEOBOR, and in 2015 Florida PBA legislation passed that created public records exemptions for body-worn cameras. Just this past Legislative Session, the Florida PBA lobbied to expand LEOBOR’s protections to part-time officers.
In addition to its support of LEOBOR, the Florida PBA also lobbies for annual salary and wage increases, budget increases for police and correctional institutions at the local and state level. Since 1994, the Florida PBA has also passed legislation using Florida tax dollars — that could otherwise be invested in supporting communities, public schools, drug treatment programs, and mental health programs — to support enforcement officers, correctional officers, local and state police legislative power, and bolstering LEOBOR at the state level.
The Florida PBA is the single greatest hurdle to repealing LEOBOR and gaining true police accountability for misuse of force, racial profiling, and murder by police officers. Unfortunately, it is also the greatest state and local hurdle to true divestment from the police. Without a unified organizing effort to counter the Florida PBA and repeal LEOBOR, true divestment from the police and the push for police accountability cannot be sustained.
For this reason, activists involved in racial justice, police accountability, and divestment efforts at Tallahassee Community Action Committee, Jacksonville Community Action Committee, Florida People’s Advocacy Center and Florida Coalition of Transgender Liberation are uniting to create a organized force to fight LEOBOR and push back against organized police power supported by the Florida PBA. This collective recently put together a Community Control of the Police Workshop that explains the link between community control of the police through a Civilian Police Accountability Council ordinance and LEOBOR. As a collective, we will be creating future education and organizing activities. We believe that the Florida PBA and LEOBOR are not insurmountable obstacles. History has shown that if we fight as a collective we can and will sustain true positive change.
If you and/or your local organization want to get involved and learn more about how you can help fight LEOBOR and curtail Florida PBA police power, please fill out the form.
- Florida Statute 112.532. http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0100-0199/0112/Sections/0112.532.html
- Keenan, Kevin M. and Samuel Walker. “An Impediment to Police Accountability? An analysis of Statutory Law Enforcement Officer’s Bills of Rights”. https://samuelwalker.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/UnionsLEOBORs.pdf
- See Florida Police Benevolent Association website: https://flpba.org/our-history/
- 2020 HB 573, available at https://myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Bills/billsdetail.aspx?BillId=67511&SessionId=89