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How Florida got bipartisan police reform -- and what was lost to achieve it

Romy Ellenbogen, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in News & Features

Lorie Fridell, a University of South Florida professor of criminology who researches police use of force and police deviance, said most of the reforms championed in Florida’s new law were either already in place in most law enforcement agencies or were uncontroversial changes to how law enforcement agencies already operate.

Fridell noted that some of the new requirements had been recommended in 2020 by the Florida Police Chiefs Association. More controversial issues like removing qualified immunity and examining the power of police unions that have come up in other states were not mentioned in the new law.

One thing the Florida bill has that hasn’t been replicated widely, Fridell said, is requiring outside agencies to conduct deadly force investigations. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who was involved in the formation of the bill, led the move to put such a practice in place in Pinellas County in July 2020, saying the idea was sparked by the protests scrutinizing police actions.

Rep. Cord Byrd, a Republican who was the chair of the criminal justice and public safety subcommittee, said the committee took more than two dozen bills and worked to knit them into a piece of united legislation.

“The bill came out late in session, but the reason was so that we tried to incorporate as many of the concepts that had the broadest appeal possible,” he said.

Byrd said the bill sets a standard floor for agencies, something that he hopes will build Floridians’ trust in law enforcement.

He said getting unanimous support for the bill in a hyperpartisan environment was difficult but showed that such efforts are possible.

 

“We took the ideas, we listened and that shows that we’re capable of doing it when we want to,” Byrd said.

Bracy said he feels there were certain plays made to run up the clock to avoid the bill being more expansive, even after early negotiations ruled out things like outright bans on chokeholds.

“I think the negotiations went on throughout session and the later it got, the more there was concern that nothing would be done,” Bracy said. “And I think that was by design, to be honest, I think the speaker knew I would prefer to have gone further.”

Bracy said he’s not sure if the bipartisan collaboration on this bill heralds anything for the future.

“I don’t know if that momentum carries to next year,” he said. “I will continue to push for more, but for us to get consensus like that, I don’t know if we can do it again.”

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