Bipartisan police reform bill limits chokehold use in Florida, sets use of force investigation standards

Florida

TAMPA (WFLA) – As the clock ticks toward the end of the legislative session in Tallahassee, a bipartisan police reform bill is moving through the Florida House.

The bill takes aim at the controversial police tactic of chokeholds, by banning the neck restraint to subdue suspects unless there’s “circumstances where the officer perceives an immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death to themselves or another.”

The proposal would also require officers to intervene and stop another’s use of excessive force when reasonable.

Building off the momentum of last summer’s protests in response to the death of George Floyd, State Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D-63) told 8 On Your Side police reform has been a top priority for the Florida Legislative Black Caucus and Democratic lawmakers.

“I think the hope of all of us who had a hand in putting together this bill is that we can prevent anything like that from happening in Florida,” she said of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin pinning his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.

The bipartisan bill coming out of the House Judiciary Committee establishes statewide standards for use of force investigations.

“I’d like to openly thank Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls for his leadership trying to think through that section so the goal there is to have independent investigations when there’s a use of force,” Driskell said.

8 On Your Side reached out to Speaker Sprowls (R-65) for comment on the bill, but did not hear back.

In addition to an outside law enforcement agency or state attorney’s office conducting the investigation, the proposal directs FDLE to create a state database after July 1, 2022 of police shootings and use of force cases resulting in death or serious injury.

“That’s really what it’s all about,” Driskell said, “to rebuild trust between the law enforcement, who puts their lives on the line every day and trying to keep our communities safe. And then also communities of color who are often times policed unfairly who feel like their lives are at risk just because of their skin color.”

The bill requires law enforcement agencies to preserve a record of officers’ termination, resignation, or retirements for at least five years. Officers seeking employment with a new agency would need to submit a sworn affidavit disclosing if they’re under investigation or have been terminated for cause.

“We want to make sure that officers who are the bad apples that could spoil the bunch aren’t able to jump from agency to agency,” Driskell said.

In response to the 2019 arrest of a 6-year-old student Kaia Rolle at her Orlando school, the bill would also prohibit arresting children younger than 7-years-old, unless they commit a “forcible felony.”

“We have to be very careful to protect the most vulnerable in our society which includes our children,” Driskell said.

The bill could make it to the floor of the House for a vote as early as next week, Driskell said. She added there’s still work to be done to get state senators on board with these police reform proposals before the legislative session ends on April 30.

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