Orlando Sentinel

House moves on ‘use of force’ training for police, prison guards

- By Jim Turner

TALLAHASSE­E — A bipartisan proposal to add hiring standards and bolster “use of force” training for police and correction­al officers began moving forward Thursday in the House.

With the measure deemed a starting point for further talks, the Judiciary Committee unanimousl­y supported the proposal (PCB JDC 21-01) by Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach. In part, it would require people applying for law-enforcemen­t positions to disclose if they are subject to pending investigat­ions or if they left prior criminal justice jobs while under investigat­ion.

Byrd said the proposal, which has emerged with little more than two weeks left in the legislativ­e session, is intended to instill “trust” in law enforcemen­t.

“This (bill) reflects the work in conversati­ons over many months, with and between lawmakers, law enforcemen­t and citizens in a bipartisan effort to promote best law-enforcemen­t practices, to make them uniform throughout the state,” Byrd said.

The proposal also comes as police use of force has faced heavy scrutiny and spurred protests across the country during the past year. That scrutiny, in part, has stemmed from the May 2020 death of George Floyd after then-Minneapoli­s police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the Black man’s neck for more than eight minutes. Chauvin is on trial.

Members of the Florida Legislativ­e Black Caucus said Thursday that the House proposal would set up needed conversati­ons to make communitie­s safer while also helping to lift up law enforcemen­t. The plan was supported by law-enforcemen­t organizati­ons, along with the groups such as the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We know our law enforcemen­t officers put their lives on the line every single day, protecting people,” said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat who is Black. “But, we also know that communitie­s of color don’t always feel policed as fairly, and they feel that lack of trust. So, what can we do to try to help bridge that gap?”

Part of the House proposal would require the state Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission to develop basic skills training for use of force. Also, law enforcemen­t and correction­al agencies would be required to enact policies on use of force, including de-escalation techniques.

The bill has been quietly in the works for months while a fierce debate has played out over one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top legislativ­e priorities (HB 1), which would create a new crime of “mob intimidati­on,” enhance penalties on riot-related offenses and make it harder for municipali­ties to trim spending on law enforcemen­t. The Senate could give final approval to that bill Thursday

night

The measure seeks to limit the use of chokeholds to circumstan­ces when law-enforcemen­t officers perceive immediate threats of serious bodily injury or death to themselves or other people. Also, the policies would require on-duty officers to based upon the circumstan­ces intervene when they witness other officers using or attempting to use excessive force.

Officers would also be required to render medical assistance after use of force when it is evident people being detained are injured or require medical attention. Training would also be designed to help officers engage with people who have substancea­buse disorders or mental illnesses.

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