Respect and dignity
A year ago, in the wake of the George Floyd murder, the Florida Police Chiefs Association launched a committee to explore ways police could improve their relationship with the communities they serve.
On Friday, the FPCA Subcommittee on Accountability and Societal Change released a report with suggestions that, while numerous, boil down to police and the public making a conscious effort to treat each other with respect and dignity.
According to the report, police can strengthen their relationship with the public by adopting “procedural justice” — a term encompassing listening, acting fairly, and explaining their actions to the people they serve. Non-law enforcement can bridge the divide by recognizing that police are humans and that mistakes aren’t always malicious.
“These are difficult issues, and sometimes difficult conversations, but the Subcommittee’s work is an example that progress and success is possible — especially at the local level,” FPCA president and Daytona Beach Shores Public Safety Department Director Stephan Dembinsky. “The FPCA recommends that local law enforcement agencies and their communities use this document to engage or expand this conversation.”
The report has 32 pages of bullet points suggesting ways law enforcement agencies and community groups can be part of the solution.
St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway chaired the committee, which included law enforcement leaders from communities of all sizes — from Orlando to the FSU campus. Holloway said the subcommittee’s reports apply “to agencies of all sizes and demographics.”
“By working together, utilizing these guidelines, we will be acting as one agency with one voice,” he said.
The panel also included the heads of community groups, such as Urban League of Greater Miami CEO T. Willard Fair, and top academics, such as Dr. Randy Nelson, the program director at Bethune-Cookman University’s Center for Law and Social Justice.
“Law enforcement needs to be able to engage our Black and Brown communities on non-law enforcement issues,” Nelson said. “If they don’t, we will never get over the stigma of these communities associating the police with negative actions. Communities and the police have equal responsibility for this engagement. Only then can lasting partnerships that improve public safety be developed.”
“After reading these reports by the Subcommittee, I hope that law enforcement leaders will first understand that reform and supporting the police aren’t mutually exclusive. Any organization that doesn’t constantly evolve to support the people you serve is one that is destined to fail,” he said.
He added, “Communities need to review these recommendations and acknowledge that most officers are good and want to do the right thing. They need to be just as likely to uplift them as they are to disparage them.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers, and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Jason Delgado, Haley Brown and the staff of Florida Politics.
The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
No school mask mandates — Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Friday to prohibit schools from implementing a mask mandate in the upcoming school year. The order itself authorized Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to “pursue all legal means available to ensure school districts adhere to Florida law.” Among other methods, the state may withhold funds from noncompliant school boards. The order comes as the delta variant of COVID-19 spreads across the U.S. and Florida. According to the Florida Department of Health, 6,999 kids below 12 tested positive for COVID-19 last week. DeSantis introduced the executive order in Cape Coral with the words “Free to Choose” emblazoned across a podium.
Daily briefings make a comeback — Lamenting a “void” of COVID-19 data in Florida, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried hosted a series of independent pandemic briefings this week at the state Capitol. The briefings mark the first since DeSantis suspended daily COVID-19 reports in early June. The daily updates, Fried said, are based on data shared by the Florida Department of Health with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Throughout the week, Fried has repeatedly criticized DeSantis for making Floridians “jump through hoops” to access timely data. Also a gubernatorial contender, she’s called on businesses and local governments to take the initiative on public health measures.
DeSantis chimes in on abortion — DeSantis and a slew of Republican Governors signed onto an amicus brief this week that challenges the constitutionality of abortion in the United States. The brief challenges the two landmark Supreme Court decisions: Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. Among other contentions, DeSantis and 12 other Governors argued the issue is best managed at the state level. “Rather than creating a federal constitutional right, the Court should leave regulating abortion to the States, where the people may act through the democratic process,” the brief stated. In a statement, a spokesperson for DeSantis said the Governor “believes in the sanctity of life and the protection of the unborn.”
Mayors defy DeSantis, issue mask orders — Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings signed an executive order this week that requires all county employees to wear masks indoors and mandates all nonunion employees get vaccinated. It also encourages, but doesn’t mandate, other public and private sector employers to require workers to wear masks and get vaccinated. Disney did both. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava went a step further, ordering county employees and residents visiting county facilities to mask up. The mandates came despite a new state law that severely limits local government emergency orders and a DeSantis decree that expressly forbids them from mandating masks or enforcing them with fines. Levine Cava was blunt, saying, “I am going to enforce the mask mandate.”
Roundtable echo chamber — With no advance notice to the public, DeSantis this week held a roundtable discussion with a set of doctors and school personnel who, unlike most of their peers, are fully behind the Governor’s anti-mask crusade. Panel members claimed that masks don’t prevent the spread of COVID-19 and “are nothing more than a symbol of fear and anxiety.” The vast majority of medical professionals, public health experts, and scientists disagree. The roundtable also saw DeSantis warn that any federal or school district mask mandates would be met with a Special Session to “provide protections for parents and kids who just want to breathe freely.”
A joint federal and state investigation led to the $113,000 in restitution for the Florida Medicaid program.
According to a news release from Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office, the investigation found an Ocala neurologist allegedly submitted false claims for “medically unnecessary and unreasonable” prescription drugs.
“Defrauding Florida’s Medicaid program is not a victimless crime; it harms the taxpayers of our great state. My Medicaid Fraud Control Unit investigators work hard to protect taxpayers by identifying, investigating, and stopping fraud exploiting this taxpayer-funded health care program—and recovering lost funds whenever possible,” Moody said.
Florida Neurological Center, LLC, and its owner, Dr. Lance Kim, reached a settlement agreement with prosecutors that allows them to avoid liability, but have agreed to pay $800,000 to resolve allegations stemming from the investigation that Dr. Kim fraudulently prescribed drugs.
According to the statement from the Attorney General’s office, one drug that Dr. Kim allegedly falsely prescribed is Acthar Gel, which cost government health care programs more than $32,000 each time Dr. Kim prescribed a five-day supply.
According to the joint investigation, the defendants allegedly submitted false claims to Medicare and Medicaid from January 2013 through July 2020.
SRO of the Year
Moody also announced the 2021 Florida School Resource Officer of the Year Monday.
Corporal Elissa Elders of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office took the honor.
A news release from the Attorney General’s Office stated Elders had shown exemplary work in protecting and engaging with Pine View Middle School students for the past seven years.
“Corporal Elders is a shining example of what every school resource officer should aspire to be — a role model, mentor and friend to the students at her school. Corporal Elders does not limit her role to just providing security on campus; she goes above and beyond her professional requirements to personally engage with and better the lives of the students she serves,” Moody said in a written statement.
Elders is a 15-year law enforcement veteran and has served as a school resource officer for the past seven years at Pine View Middle School, acting as an advocate and resource to students, faculty or staff.
Moody presented the award virtually during the Florida Association of School Resource Officers conference in Orlando.
“From founding and sponsoring multiple clubs on campus, to participating in school productions, Corporal Elders is just as dedicated to being present for students once the school day is complete. Thank you, Corporal Elders, for all that you do to enrich the lives of the students you serve—leaving a lasting impact far beyond their time at Pine View.”
The news release from Moody’s office cited a time during last year’s remote learning, when Elders went “above and beyond” to make a student’s birthday special by attending a virtual birthday party, complete with a decorated patrol car, birthday cake and signs.
Elders also began the School Resource Officer for a Day program, selecting students to spend the day patrolling the campus and have lunch with Elders.