TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA —- A new public transparency bill sailed its way through the midpoint of Florida’s session, earning unanimous support in Monday’s Committee on Criminal Justice.
Sponsored by Sen. Danny Burgess (R-Zephyrhills), SB 998 would require a written notice to a police chief who may be fired. It also allows the police chief to defend himself at a public meeting, effectively creating a public record of the termination procedure.
“This ensures that a police chief can operate in the way that they’re intended to, without feeling like their political master is weighing down on them,” Sen. Burgess stated, explaining the potential political pressure police chiefs can face in their job.
One chief of police, Shawn Chamberlain, echoed the Senator’s point, telling the Committee he was put on leave with no notice for reasons “I can only presume to be personal and political.”
These provisions are designed to not only protect police chiefs, but clue the public in on their chiefs’ actions and responsibilities. This seems to be one of the first steps in guaranteeing rights to chiefs, not just officers, as is covered by the LEOBOR.
“LESS RIGHTS THAN A FIRE CHIEF”
While Sen. Burgess’ legislation passed with little hesitation, it drew up the question of the LEOBOR, with its extensive protections offered to officers – not chiefs – across the country.
“Police chiefs are not a part of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights,” Sen. Burgess said, “They have less rights than a fire chief does.”
This assertion likely saved the legislation from heated debate, as the LEOBOR is a contentious subject; many worry that increased legal protections for officers can host an environment ripe for misconduct.
The ACLU of Florida wrote that the LEOBOR “inhibits disciplinary action for officer misconduct, police brutality and racial profiling.”
PROTECTION OF RIGHTS, NOT ABUSE OF POWER
The executive director of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, Jennifer Cook Pritt, tells the Florida Standard that police chiefs are not looking for the same protections officers have – but the ability to do their job without outside and under-the-table influences.
She explained that police officers, under the LEOBOR, can recant testimony. “We’re not looking to hold police chiefs to the standard where they can recant testimony if they were under investigation,” she explained, “This is not about trying to get all of the protections that are afforded police officers to police chiefs.”
The bill’s identical counterpart in the House, HB 935, will see committee for the first time Tuesday afternoon. With the strong support received by Sen. Burgess’s Senate version, it’s likely the House bill will receive similar endorsement.
After Monday’s resounding stamp of approval, SB 998 will advance to the Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability.