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DeSantis Signs Two Bills That Benefit Police at the Expense of Citizens


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 184 and HB 601 into law on Friday.  The latter prohibits civilian oversight boards (like the one established by the City of Bradenton) from investigating police misconduct. The former makes it a second-degree misdemeanor for a person to come within 25 feet of a first responder once said responder has issued a "warning."

Twenty-one Florida cities, including Tampa, Orlando, Bradenton, Miami, and Tallahassee, have formed civilian oversight boards. HB 601 does not abolish the boards, and DeSantis said at the signing ceremony that they could still meet to discuss law enforcement policies while alleging that the boards use law enforcement as "political piñatas" to "create false narratives" and "make it miserable to live or to work in uniform."

Rep. Wyman Duggan (R-Duval County), the bill's main sponsor, claimed that the law will simply prevent the boards from using such investigations as "a vehicle to persecute our law enforcement officers." However, such boards are not empowered to subpoena witnesses or documents and possess no actual disciplinary power. The law instead authorizes sheriffs or police chiefs to appoint oversight boards of three to seven members at their discretion.

Cities that have implemented such boards have done so in response to loud and, in most cases, very justified public outcries regarding the equal treatment of citizens under the law. Shifting from a citizen oversight system to one formed by law enforcement appointment will inherently benefit law enforcement at the expense of the citizens who empower them.

SB 184 is titled "Impeding, Threatening, or Harassing First Responders," which sounds reasonable enough. First responders, including law enforcement, can face additional challenges in exercising their duties if unruly bystanders are intent on interfering. However, police have local ordinances at their disposal that would cover most imaginable instances, as well as FL statute 843, which deals broadly with "obstructing justice."

The First Amendment Foundation has raised concerns that the bill's vague language could very easily be used by law enforcement to impede citizens' First Amendment right to observe or record video of police officers, particularly those who may be engaged in questionable conduct.

SB 184 defines such conduct as that "which intentionally causes substantial emotional distress in that first responder and serves no legitimate purpose," a painfully vague standard that could very easily impede on constitutionally protected rights.

What's more, the right to observe and record police activity has already been upheld as a constitutionally protected right. In 2022, lawmakers in Arizona passed a bill requiring bystanders to be at least eight feet away from law enforcement officers working a scene, particularly while video recording their actions.

The Arizona bill was signed into law, but a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional because it infringed on rights established by the First Amendment. Signing a bill into law that will surely face expensive legal challenges, the outcome of which does not look promising for the state, is all the more reason that Governor DeSantis should have vetoed this unnecessary bill. 

Together with the expanded use of police body cams, citizen cell phone video recordings have not only exposed abuses of power and helped hold those who commit them accountable for their actions but also helped to create an environment in which they are less likely to occur in the first place. It turns out that most people tend to execute much better behavior when there is an increased likelihood that their actions might later be seen by anyone who wants to watch. Any law that might reduce such citizen oversight is a dangerous step backward.

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here. 


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  • Cat L

    Well, the Gov has his own version of "Brown Coats" and he's certainly been removing obstacles they might have to taking nefarious action.

    Sunday, April 14 Report this

  • David Daniels

    These laws are an obvious attempt to create an environment and community where the Derek Chauvin’s are permitted to operate with impunity.

    Sunday, April 14 Report this