TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a police reform bill into law among almost 300 that have passed from the 2021 legislative session. The new bill sets standards for police conduct and takes aim at creating more accountability for law enforcement and corrections officers in the state. It also bans the arrest of children under 7 for non-violent offenses.

Under HB 7051, operational standards for law enforcement and corrections agencies are up for a revamp, with new requirements taking effect to promote “effective policing,” according to a summary from the Florida Senate.

Going forward, those applying for work as a law enforcement officer, correctional officer, or correctional probation officer must submit an affidavit disclosing if they are subject to any pending investigations by local, state or federal agencies or entities for a criminal, civil, or administrative wrongdoing.

According to the new law, whether or not they separated or resigned from a previous criminal justice employment while being investigated, the investigations must be disclosed.

Additionally, pre-employment background checks are now required to include acts and reasons for any of an applicants previous separations from private or public employment or appointment, and each employing agency must maintain officer employment records for a minimum of five years after they are terminated, resign or retire.

The Criminal justice Standards and Training Commission, a part of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, must also establish standards for instructing officers on use of force and develop policies to include:

  • Proportional use of force;
  • Alternatives to use of force, including de-escalation techniques;
  • If the agency authorizes use of chokeholds, limits on such use to circumstances where the officer perceives an immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death to the officer or another person;
  • The duty of an on-duty officer who observes another officer engaging or attempting to engage in excessive use of force to intervene to end the excessive use of force or attempted excessive use of force when such intervention is reasonable based on the totality of the circumstances and the observing officer may intervene without jeopardizing the officer’s own health or safety;
  • The duty to render medical assistance following use of force when an officer knows, or when it is otherwise evident, that a person who is detained or in custody is injured or requires medical attention and the action is reasonable based on the totality of the circumstances and the officer may do so without jeopardizing the officer’s safety; and
  • Instruction on the recognition of the evident symptoms and characteristics of a person with a substance abuse disorder or mental illness and appropriate responses to such person.

Starting July 1, 2023, the standards designed by the Commission must be included in every basic skills course required to obtain an officer’s initial certification as a law enforcement, correctional, or correctional probation officer.

Among definitions now required, the bill defines a chokehold and excessive use of force.

Now, a chokehold is defined by law as “the intentional and prolonged application of force to the throat, windpipe, or airway of another person that prevents the intake of air. The term does not include any hold involving contact with another person’s neck that is not intended to prevent the intake of air.”

Excessive use of force will now be defined by law as “use of force that exceeds the degree of force permitted by law, policy, or the observing officer’s employing agency.”

Agencies will also have to develop and maintain policies for use of force investigations, when a law enforcement officer’s use of force results in death or when discharge of a firearm leads to injury or death to any person.

Under the new law, minimum polices must include an independent review of the use of force by:

  • A law enforcement agency that did not employ the law enforcement officer under investigation at the time of the use of force;
  • A law enforcement officer who is not employed by the same employing agency as the law enforcement officer under investigation; or
  • The state attorney of the judicial circuit in which the use of force occurred.

Starting July 1, 2022, law enforcement agencies must submit quarterly reports to FDLE with use of force data that results in “serious bodily injury, death, or discharge of a firearm at a person.” The data must include all information collected by the FBI’s National Use-of-Force Data Collection, on use of force incidents that end in “serious bodily injury, death, or discharge of a firearm at a person.”

Finally, children younger than 7 years old may not be arrested, charged, or adjudicated delinquent for a delinquent act or violation of law, unless the law is a forcible felony, if the act happened before they turned seven, under HB 7051.

This comes after body camera footage in February showed the arrest of a 6-year-old girl at her Orlando school. Kaia Rolle, accused of of battering three staff members, cried as an officer put zip ties on her wrists, asking for help. “Please let me go,” she asked the officer. The arresting officer was later fired.

The law takes effect July 1.

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