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Bills promote de-escalation training for police

Senior Editor Top Stories

11th Circuit State Attorney, justice reform commission back the legislation

Katherine Fernandez Rundle

Katherine Fernandez Rundle

A grass-roots justice reform group begun by the 11th Circuit State Attorney’s Office is backing legislation calling for better training of police to de-escalate potentially violent confrontations and limiting the use of choke holds.

The Continuing Criminal Justice Reform Commission, set up by State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle in December, has won sponsorship for the legislation (SB 1970 and HB 1513) from Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Miami, will be co-sponsoring.

Rep. Nick Duran, D-Miami, is backing the proposal in the House. The bills were filed on March 1.

Fernandez Rundle said the reform commission was formed in December in the wake of protests in Miami that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. In January, it held a virtual public hearing that took testimony from 28 people.

“[The commission] included the faith-based community, our local association of police chiefs, and the community,” she said. “We listened to many representatives in our community as to how to better equip our police with skills that can save lives, civilian lives, and their own lives.

“The overwhelming consensus was that training is the key. We’re going to be looking at lots of other areas, this one was very important now.”

The bill would:

• Ban choke holds except in cases involving deadly force.

• Educate police on using de-escalation techniques in police-citizen encounters, including requiring every officer to receive a minimum number of hours in de-escalation training.

• Require implicit bias training for police.

• Improve the cultural sensitivity of officers.

• Require police to intervene if they see a fellow officer use excessive or unnecessary force.

The bills would require the enhanced training to be part of law enforcement and correctional officer training standards.

The bill has support from local police.

“To the police professionals’ credit, they too want to have better training and they want to improve their relationship with the community,” Fernandez Rundle said. “They swore to protect and serve and it’s very sad to see the gap that exists between some of our community and some of our police.”

She noted that days after Floyd’s death, police officers and chiefs from around Miami-Dade County kneeled with demonstrators at a Coral Gables protest, and expressed support for their goals.

The proposed legislation is being supported by the Executive Board of the Miami-Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police and the South Florida Police Benevolent Association, the latter which noted the goals of the bill are already practiced throughout the county.

Most police in the county, as part of earlier mental-health initiatives, have already received training about dealing with the mentally ill, which has resulted in a dramatic drop in injuries resulting from calls to police.

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