Tampa unshackles Police Dept. from Citizens Review Board following new Florida law

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TAMPA, FL— The City Council of Tampa, FL voted in a 6-1 measure Thursday to initiate the dissolution of the Citizens Review Board that was formed in 2015 in response to allegations of racial profiling. The move came just days before a new Florida law, HB 601, came into force eliminating the ability of municipalities to create such bodies. 

The new law allows the formation of civilian oversight boards at the county level appointed by a Sheriff or Police Chief with a minimum of one retired officer but eliminates the ability of "political subdivisions," including cities, towns, villages, and municipal or metropolitan governments to create or maintain their own boards by ordinance.

At the signing of the bill in April, Governor Ron DeSantis explained, "These men and women do not need to be scrutinized again and again by a committee that has no idea what they're talking about," according to Fox13. "They're not free to use law enforcement as political piñatas."

The Tampa Board is a panel of volunteer citizens tasked with conducting independent reviews of Tampa PD disciplinary actions and empowered to evaluate them along with other issues of importance to the city and the department, making recommendations to the Mayor and Chief of Police.

Instead, the bill requires every department to handle the oversight role internally stating, "Every law enforcement agency and correctional agency shall establish and put into operation a system for the receipt, investigation, and determination of complaints received by such agency from any person, which must be the procedure for investigating a complaint against a law enforcement or correctional officer and for determining whether to proceed with disciplinary action or to file disciplinary charges, notwithstanding any other law or ordinance to the contrary."

DeSantis told reporters in April that members of existing boards, "can meet, they can exercise whatever First Amendment that they want, but they don't have the right to initiate disciplinary proceedings." However, as noted by Fox13 co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Danny Alvarez (R-Miami) explained during Tampa's Thursday Council meeting that all 21 of the CRBs created by Florida municipalities must dissolve. And he warned the city not to attempt to circumvent the law.

"I would tell you that having worked on this bill and having cosponsored it myself, that if you were to find some sort of way that you’re going to keep it going then we’ll just have to come back to the dais to tighten it up," Alvarez told the Council.  "I hate to be that way and talk about it, but the intent of this was to uniformly make these [civilian oversight agencies] across the state of Florida shut down by July 1, and then they can reopen at the will of the city of Tampa should you want that underneath the statue’s rules."

Tampa's Mayor, Democrat Jane Castor expressed her disappointment, having held hopes that the Tampa CRB would be able to continue with limited powers. "It's disappointing because Tampa’s Citizens Review Board helped foster community trust in the Police Department and had an excellent working relationship with the department," she told the outlet.

The Tampa PD released a statement following the vote which read, "The Tampa Police Department is committed to transparency and working in partnership with our community to make Tampa safer, together. Chief Bercaw looks forward to establishing a Civilian Oversight Board, as outlined by HB 601 when the law goes into effect and welcomes any input current Tampa CRB members would offer to share."
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