Miami Herald Op/Ed: Approve uniform training, policing standards throughout Florida to keep residents and officers safer

Photo: State Attorney Headshot
State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle recently co-authored an opinion-editorial in the Miami Herald. The State Attorney wrote the article with Rev. Dr. Carl Johnson is pastor at 93rd Street Community Baptist Church. Charles Press is the police chief of Key Biscayne.

You do not have to be a national figure, local public official, community organizer or church leader to recognize that transformative change — substantive change of any kind, actually — is always hard to achieve.

As members of a community that has initiated “smart justice” reforms, such as treatment courts, the use of civil citations instead of arrests for minor offenses and multi-agency events in which court records are sealed and expunged, we recognize the difficulties along the road to actual achievement.

The events of 2020, both tragic and heroic, have brought the issue of social criminal-justice reforms to the fore. We, members of the Continuing Justice Reform Commission (CJRC), have started a broad-based reform effort in this year’s session of the Florida Legislature that would have an impact on all of Florida’s 387 law-enforcement agencies.

In December, we convened the CJRC to address urgent issues facing Miami-Dade County. The commission comprises a broad cross-section of our community, including public officials, government employees, faith leaders, law enforcement, advocacy groups and community organizations. We proposed that the commission identify ways to obtain more fair, equal and just outcomes. After getting community input from a wide range of individuals and groups, ranging from the ACLU to law enforcement, we have come up with a proposal aimed at influencing both the present and future of policing in Florida.

The commission’s goal was to develop statewide policies to limit the use of force and preserve life by banning the use of police chokeholds except when confronted with deadly force; training in de-escalation techniques, procedural justice and implicit bias; and requiring officers to intervene if they see another officer use excessive or unnecessary force. Standardized training in these areas will improve consistency and application of the law and, inevitably, will improve police-community relations throughout the state.

On Jan. 27, the commission approved a draft bill incorporating these measures. Miami-Dade State Sen. Sens. Jason Pizzo and Ana Maria Rodriguez, and State Rep. Nicholas X. Duran are sponsoring SB 1970 and HB 1513, respectively. The legislation also is supported in its current form by the ACLU, the Miami-Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police and the South Florida Police Benevolent Association.

The people of this community should be an important part of the legislative process — and easily can be. By reaching out to your state senators and representatives, through email or phone call, you will show your deep concern. On important issues of statewide concern, residents’ voices can become a true chorus of hope.

Over the next couple of months, commission members will promote our shared goals and encourage true and lasting change in our justice-related system. Together, we can, and will, make a transformative and tangible difference. It is our heartfelt belief that true justice is something done for everyone, not to anyone.

Our bill is a great start, but it’s only that — a start. There still is much work to be done, in the Legislature and throughout the state. During the next year, we intend to address additional potential reforms impacting every stage of the system.

United, our own community has overcome difficult situations and crises many times before, finding solutions that work. Our bill can be a strong step forward, advancing the cause of transformational justice reform.

Kathy Fernandez Rundle is the Miami-Dade state attorney. Rev. Dr. Carl Johnson is pastor at 93rd Street Community Baptist Church. Charles Press is the police chief of Key Biscayne.