Showing posts with label Florida. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Florida. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Districts are closing traditional public schools as charters, etc., lure students

 By Jay Waagmeester

It’s a result of deliberate DeSantis adminstration policy

Broward County Public Schools has voted to close a minimum of five of its campuses amid declining enrollment, a trend in counties across Florida amid increasing taxpayer-funded enrollment in private and charter schools.

The board on June 18 told Superintendent Howard Hepburn to begin the closure process in light of an internal report finding that 66 of Broward’s more than 200 traditional public schools were operating at 70% or less capacity.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

DeSantis OKs bills halting police civilian oversight, stopping bystanders from getting close


Gov. Ron DeSantis signed two bills Friday morning that would prohibit civilian oversight boards from investigating police misconduct and stop people from getting too close to first responders doing their jobs.

The governor received both bills (HB 601 and SB 184) on Wednesday and held the signing ceremony on Friday in the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office in St. Augustine. During the ceremony, DeSantis portrayed the bills as efforts to protect law enforcement officers from people who wanted to abuse them publicly.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

DeSantis signs tougher penalties for retail theft, ‘porch piracy,’ into law


Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Wednesday boosting penalties for retail theft, including sanctions for “porch pirates” who steal deliveries from outside people’s homes.

The governor’s office pointed to reports from retailers estimating losses as $112 billion during 2022, with hot spots in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

DeSantis signs law prohibiting the homeless from sleeping in public spaces

One Democrat says the law “strips away the humanity of those enduring homelessness”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Wednesday that will prohibit cities and counties from allowing individuals and families to sleep and camp on public property.

“It will help maintain and ensure that Florida streets are clean and that Florida streets are safe for our residents,” DeSantis said at a press conference held at a Greek restaurant in South Miami Beach.

DeSantis once again emphasized that he does not want any community in Florida to resemble cities on America’s west coast that have had problems handling their homeless population in recent years, first and foremost San Francisco.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

FL activists protest proposal that would abolish civilian review boards

The measure is strongly supported by law enforcement

Three dozen activists gathered in front of the old Capitol building in Tallahassee on Tuesday, registering their displeasure against a measure that would ban cities and counties from forming civilian police oversight boards and dissolve already-existing boards.

Similar bills in the House (HB 601) and Senate (SB 576) have been moving through committee hearings and likely will be voted on by both chambers. If approved, the bills will go to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk. If he were to sign the measure, all 21 currently existing citizens review boards would be dissolved in Florida. 

“Civilian oversight works,” said Michael Sampson, with the Jacksonville Community Action Committee. “Civilian oversight makes it so that officers have to understand that if they do something crazy, it’s going to be the public looking at them…if they take away our right to even have oversight review over what police do, what else are they coming for? This is the stripping of our democratic right to control how our communities are policed.”

There are more than 150 civilian oversight agencies across the country, according to a National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement report published in 2021.  Of the 21 organizations in Florida. half of them were formed since the protests over the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, according to a 2022 report.

The protest Tuesday was organized by Students for Democratic Society.

“We saw civilian review boards pop up in Lakeland, Florida, ” said Sampson. “That is not known as a bastion of left-wing activism.”

Activists in Florida have complained that civilian review boards lack teeth because they don’t have subpoena witnesses and documents, and none have any actual disciplinary power. “They don’t want police review boards that have any power,” said Wells Todd with Take Em Down Jax, a group involved with bringing down Confederate monuments in Jacksonville. “They don’t want those. So it’s time to seriously fight back.” 

But Jacksonville Republican Wyman Duggan, the sponsor of the bill in the House, has said there is a need for the proposal because there are no “uniform standards” among the 21 different police oversight agencies across Florida.

He was called out specifically by a couple of the protesters on Tuesday.

“Shame on politicians like Wyman Duggan, who attack police accountability. Who say that it’s too much for us to have the barest limits democracy in the state of Florida,” said Delilah Pierre, with the Tallahassee Community Action Committee. “Community oversight is the smallest, barest first step to preventing the atrocities and the casualties that we’ve seen from policing in Florida and the United States of America.”

The Senate version of the bill (SB 576) is being sponsored by Hernando County Republican Blaise Ingoglia.  It also says that a county sheriff may establish a civilian oversight board to review the policies and procedures of his or her office and its subdivisions. It could range between three and seven members appointed by the local sheriff.

The cities in Florida that currently have citizens review boards are:  Bradenton, Daytona Beach, Delray Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Fort Pierce, Gainesville, Key West, Kissimmee, Lakeland, Miami, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Ocoee, Orlando, Pensacola, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee, Tampa, West Palm Beach and Winter Haven.

This article originally appeared in the Florida Phoenix on February20th, 2024.

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Thursday, February 8, 2024

DeSantis says homelessness isn’t a big problem in Florida – yet; supports legislative crackdown

‘We’re not going to let any city turn into San Francisco,’ the governor said.

Saying that while no city in Florida is contending with the issues of homelessness that are prevalent in places like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday came out in support of a proposal moving through the Florida Legislature that would ban local governments from allowing people to sleep on public property without a permit.

But he added that he would be willing to provide financial resources to any city or county who requested help in adding shelter space or for programs dealing with mental health issues and substance abuse.

“The Legislature is considering doing something to just ensure from a statewide perspective we’re not going to let any city turn into a San Francisco,” DeSantis declared at a press conference held in Miami Beach. “Not on our watch. We’re not going to let that happen. We’re going to have protections for people.”

The governor said that he was supportive of the Legislature moving in this direction as long as it was focused on “ensuring public order. Ensuring quality of life for residents. Ensuring that people’s property values are maintained. Ensuring that businesses are able to operate unobstructed without these problems bleeding.”

The homelessness-related legislation refers to a measure sponsored in the Florida House by Clay County Republican Sam Garrison (HB 1365), which would prohibit any city or county in Florida from authorizing or permitting public sleeping or camping on public property, public buildings or public rights-of-way without a lawfully temporary permit. It’s Senate equivalent (SB 1530) is sponsored by Lee County Republican Jonathan Martin.

The measure also says that if a city or county wanted to continue to provide a public place for the homeless, they need to provide a wealth of public services: access to clean running water and bathroom facilities; 24-hour security; a ban on drug and alcohol use for all users and access to substance abuse and mental health treatment resources; and it may not be in a location where it “adversely and materially affects the value or security of existing residential or commercial properties.”

Though critics charge that the legislation “criminalizes” being homeless, there are no criminal penalties in Garrison’s bill. There are civil penalties, however. The bill says that a person or business may bring a civil action in any court against any local government that did open a space for the homeless without those public services. If that person or business was successful in their lawsuit, the bill says that they could be reimbursed for court costs and attorney fees.

DeSantis added that he was “open” to providing financial support for local governments when it comes to issues of public shelters for the homeless, as well funding for programs that affect the homeless, such as mental health and substance abuse.

Joining DeSantis at the press conference was Miami Beach Mayor Steven Meiner, who discussed an ordinance approved by the Miami Beach Commission last fall that allows the police to arrest homeless people for sleeping on public streets or the public right of way if they decline placement in a shelter, as reported by the Miami Herald. 

DeSantis and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Mark Glass boasted about how homelessness has decreased in Florida, but that’s not actually accurate.

According to the most recent “point in time” count conducted in January of 2023 in Florida, there were approximately 15,706 individuals who were unsheltered, which is defined as people sleeping in cars, park benches, abandoned buildings, or other places not meant for human habitation. That was a 34% increase from the year before, according to the Florida’s Council on Homelessness’ most recent annual report.

DeSantis said that while the level of homelessness in Florida isn’t nearly as bad as some cities on the West Coast, part of being a good leader is to “see what hurdles could be 5 years out. Ten years out.”

This article originally appeared in Florida Phoenix on February 6th 2024.  
Photo credit: Jerry Meaden

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Monday, January 22, 2024

Civilian boards overseeing police in FL are in jeopardy and could be dissolved

There are 21 such agencies in Florida, with 10 formed after the death of George Floyd in 2020

In 21 jurisdictions across Florida, so-called citizen review boards were created as a way to hold police officers more accountable, with more than half of the boards established following the death of George Floyd in 2020.

But all of the boards would be dissolved if a proposal filed by Duval County House Republican Wyman Duggan (HB 601) gets approval in the current legislative session.

The local boards relate to the ability to investigate allegations of police misconduct, but Duggan says there are no “uniform standards” among the 21 different police oversight agencies across the state.

“There are no uniform standards as to the qualifications or expertise of anybody to be a member,” Duggan told the House Local Administration, Federal Affairs and Special Districts subcommittee on Friday. “There’s no uniform standards on how they choose which cases to investigate. There are no uniform standards by which that investigation is conducted. There are no uniform standards by which they reach their decisions, and there are no uniform standards as to the due process protections afforded to the officer who is subject of the misconduct review.”

And Duggan dismissed claims that removing these oversight agencies will allow law enforcement officers to escape scrutiny or accountability if they are accused of misconduct.

Numerous entities — police departments, sheriff’s offices, state attorneys, the attorney general’s office, the FBI and the Department of Justice — can and do conduct such investigations. 

A recent report by the LeRoy Collins Institute looked at the impact that such oversight review agencies have on Black and white arrest rates in Florida. The report found that cities with such agencies have seen a reduction in total Black arrest rates per 100,000 compared to cities that do not have such agencies. They also found that cities with citizen review boards experience about a 15% reduction in the total Black arrest rates compared to cities not adopting such agencies.

Tennessee passed legislation last year removing the police oversight boards that had existed in Memphis and Nashville, replacing them with review committees that have no power to investigate police misconduct allegations.

At the House committee meetings, several members of the public said that the Legislature would be making a terrible decision if they removed citizen advisory boards.

“Accountability, transparency and having citizens involvement is essential to the trust of the community,” said Susan Khoury, a candidate running for sheriff in Miami-Dade County.

In 2022, a federal jury awarded Khoury $520,000 in damages for physical and mental harm after she claims she was wrongly institutionalized for a psychological examination under the Baker Act, a state law that allows for involuntary emergency mental health services.

Khoury said that there was no civilian oversight group in Miami when the incident happened, and she said she wished there had been. “I’m letting you know that it is important as a committee that you don’t overreach, and allow the communities have a say so.”

Ursula Price is the executive director of the Miami-Dade County Independent Civilian Panel. She moved to South Florida last year to take that position after heading the New Orleans Independent Police Monitor’s Office. She said that the committee needed to understand the limitations of what civilian review boards can actually do.

“There is no way for any oversight agency to reinvestigate some officer to discipline him, to do anything but open up a public discussion about the incident that occurred,” she said, adding that there was nothing punitive about the police oversight process.

“In fact, it benefits officers a great deal,” Price added. “Officers come to me to be whistleblowers to talk about issues of race and gender discrimination inside the police department and to offer suggestions for how to improve policing.”

The bill is strongly supported by law enforcement in Florida.

“The fact that everybody’s thinking that law enforcement officers are not being investigated? That’s incorrect,” said Lisa Henning, a lobbyist with the Florida Fraternal Order of Police. “Every single one of these IA [internal affairs] investigations when closed are available to the public with a public records request.”

The committee approved the proposal mostly along party lines, with one exception: South Florida Democratic Rep. Mike Gottlieb, a criminal defense attorney, joined the Republicans in supporting the bill.

The Senate companion bill (SB 576)  is being sponsored by Hernando County Republican Blaise Ingoglia. It will receive its first hearing in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday.

This article originally appeared in Florida Phoenix on January 19th 2024.  

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Thursday, October 19, 2023

The private prison industry in FL is now changing; the state is taking more control


When private prisons began operating nearly 30 years ago in Florida, they were one of the few systems in the nation to place oversight outside of the usual state corrections administration.

Now, after a damning audit released a year ago showing failures in oversight, the Department of Corrections has taken over the oversight of seven private prisons. The move began this month following legislation passed in the spring and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The transition means that the state’s Department of Management Services (DMS) will no longer be overseeing those seven private prisons.

Of the 85,145 inmates now in prisons in Florida, slightly more than 10,000 are housed in those seven private facilities, according to Department of Corrections Deputy Secretary Richard Comerford, who spoke before the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday.

The impetus for transferring the oversight to the FDC stems from a June 2022 Florida Auditor General audit of the DMS which found seven areas of deficiencies, including bureau monitoring of private correctional facility staffing. That means the facilities needed enhancements to ensure that appropriate and qualified staff were assigned to provide for and maintain the security, control, custody, and supervision of inmates.

There are three private prison providers that run the state’s seven private prisons: CoreCivic of Tennessee, LLC, GEO Group, Inc., and Management and Training Corporation (MTC).

The audit found that the GEO Group did not adequately maintain adequate levels of security personnel at the Graceville Correctional Facility for two three-month periods in 2019, and did not properly maintain the fire safety system for three months in 2018.

It also found that MTC did not follow up on maintenance issues noted at the Gadsden Correctional Facility for 17 months (from 2018 to 2020) and that MTC could not demonstrate that key security personnel had received appropriate training in accordance with Department of Corrections requirements for five months between 2019 and 2020.

Florida is one of 27 states use private corporations to run some of their correctional facilities, according to a 2023 report by the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit group that promotes reforms in sentencing policies. The first private facility in the state, Gadsen Correctional Facility, opened in 1995. The most recent private prison is Blackwater in Santa Rosa County, which opened in 2010.

State law requires private prisons to cost 7 percent less than comparable state facilities.

Orange County Democratic Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis asked Comerford to list the differences in policies and procedures between the state’s corrections department and the state’s private prisons – specifically that private prisons don’t transfer out inmates who commit violent infractions as quickly as FDC’s policies require.

Comerford did acknowledge that the state system had fallen behind the private facilities when it came to funding programming and education programs for inmates, but he said with recent funding from the Legislature, “I think we’re even going to be on a level playing field when it comes to programming and education.”

Originally published on October 18th, 2023, in the Florida Phoenix.

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