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DeSantis signs a bill that curbs the power of civilian police oversight boards

Exterior of the Tampa Police Department
Daylina Miller
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that will prevent civilian police oversight boards set up in the wake of the murder of George Floyd from investigating the actions of officers.

Members of such oversight boards can still discuss police department or sheriff's office policies, but cannot investigate individual officers.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed a bill into law that will prevent civilian police oversight boards set up in the wake of the murder of George Floyd from investigating the actions of officers.

It also mandates that board members can only be appointed by police chiefs or county sheriffs. Tampa and St. Petersburg will be affected by the new law.

The governor said the bill was intended to eliminate politics from the oversight of police departments. In its place, only sheriffs and police chiefs would be able to appoint members of these boards that oversee actions by their own officers.

“You have review boards — that's fine — but it's got to be done in ways where you have the sheriff or chief of police appointing people,” DeSantis said. “Because the sheriff and the chiefs of police, they have an interest in insuring that their personnel are conducting themselves appropriately as well. Good order and discipline is very important. But it can't be people that have an agenda.”

“They're not free to create false narratives. They're not free just to make it miserable to work in uniform,” he said. “And these things are highly political.”

Mark Glass heads the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He said this bill means those boards can no longer investigate complaints about individual law enforcement officers.

“There are already at least six or seven different venues where that can occur,” he said. “They can still meet, they can still talk about policy, procedure, training, culture, systemic issues. But what they cannot do is use them as a vehicle to persecute our law enforcement officers.”

Critics of the bill have defended civilian review boards as crucial for building trust between officers and the people they tasked with protecting.

Tampa's oversight board, for example, was first set up in 2015 after an investigation showed city police ticketed a disproportionate number of Black bicyclists. It was later revamped in the wake of protests over George Floyd's murder.

Devon Ingandela, who serves on the city's civilian oversight board, said he's not sure how the new law would affect Tampa's board.

"We do not participate in the 'investigation' as we only really audit/review closed investigations," he wrote. "We do not have any 'oversight' authority over the Tampa Police department. We merely render an opinion on the closed investigations and it is then up to the Chief of Police or the Professional Standards team as to how they'd like to proceed."

Other cities with similar boards include St. Petersburg, Lakeland, Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Fort Pierce, Gainesville, Key West, Kissimmee, Miami, Orlando, Pensacola, Tallahassee and West Palm Beach.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.