How a new Florida law changes police oversight in communities

A new law approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis on April 12 will dismantle 21 civilian oversight agencies across Florida including in Miami-Dade County, Broward County, the city of Miami, and the city of North Miami.

Civilian oversight agencies have existed in Florida for decades, including Miami-Dade County’s independent civilian panel which started in 2020 following its predecessor, the independent review panel, which began in 1980 as a result of the riots following the acquittal of four Dade County officers in charges related to the death of Arthur McDuffie.

After DeSantis signed the law ending the review panels, “the city of North Miami announced, effective July 1, 2024, the disbandment of the office of its Citizens Investigative Board and the suspension of its operations.” Phillip C. Harris, the executive director of the Citizens Investigative Board, presented a timeline for the office’s closure in the same press release.

The Civilian Investigative Board of North Miami was established in 2020 by City Ordinance 1455 stating that the CIB will “act as independent civilian oversight of the sworn officers of the city’s police department with the authority to monitor and review civilian complaints of police misconduct.” The board also has the responsibility of conducting investigations and sharing requests, recommendations, and reports to the mayor and city council. 

Florida HB 601 was filed in the Florida House of Representatives on Nov. 21, 2023 by Rep. Wyman Duggan, a Republican from Jacksonville. 

The legislation was introduced and supported by Republican lawmakers who argued that civilian review of law enforcement is based on anti-police sentiment. Board directors such as Harris continue to advocate for their panels and promote that this sentiment is far from the truth, despite the boards’ dismantling.

“These things have been political tools. They can exercise whatever First Amendment freedom, but they’re not going to have any right to initiate disciplinary proceedings,” said Gov. DeSantis.

On March 1, SB 576 passed through the Florida Senate on a 32-0 vote. Eight senators did not vote on the bill, including Sen. Shervin D. Jones of District 34, which includes North Miami.

The House passed the following week, 81-28 nays with 11 abstentions. 

Florida Rep. Fabian Basabe, a Republican from House District 106, voted for the bill. District 106 covers Miami Beach and parts of North Miami and Aventura. 

“When it comes to law and order, especially, I trust my colleagues in the majority,” Basabe said when asked if there had been any discussions or efforts to amend the bill to address some of the concerns raised by constituents and advocacy groups.

“It is difficult to reach people who do not wish to have an open conversation, so we in the majority, as responsible elected officials, will continue to support law and order and the opposition can complain all they want in the safe spaces we protect for them. Have you ever tried talking to a rock? They don’t speak back. Regardless, I will continue to try and have as many conversations as possible,” said Basabe.

Jacqueline Flores Figueras is a junior at Florida International University majoring in digital media and pre-law. Currently, Jacqueline is a college marketing representative for Sony Music U.