Fort Myers debates future of police review board

Reporter: Peter Fleischer
Published: Updated:

A new law signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will change oversight with local police departments and it could create distance between the public and the people who swear to protect and serve.

House Bill 601, signed by Governor DeSantis in April – forbids citizen review boards from reviewing complaints against the agency and influencing department discipline.

There are more than 20 review boards across the state, and few are more active and involved than the board in Fort Myers. City officials say they’re committed to transparency moving forward and will adjust to comply with the new law.

The Fort Myers police citizen’s review board meets on the second Tuesday of every month. Police Chief Jason Fields and staff from FMPD’s internal affairs department attend. Complaints about officers and discipline inside FMPD are discussed by board members and explained by department leadership.

FMPD veteran and city council member Johnny Streets serves as a liaison between city government and the board. He doesn’t agree with peeling back oversight.

“These are just citizens wanting to do their jobs. And I think we should allow them to do their jobs according to the constitution,” Streets said. “The police department belongs to the citizens, not themselves.”

Mayor Kevin Anderson, who also served more than 20 years at FMPD, believes the board serves an important purpose but shouldn’t have excessive authority.

“I don’t have a problem with police review boards,” Anderson explained. “What concerns me is when you have boards that can actively interfere or influence how a police department is run.”

At Tuesday’s city council meeting, city attorney Grant Alley suggested disbanding the board, because the way board members were appointed – and the way the board hears public complaints – are both against the new law.

“Once we have an opportunity to figure out the best way to move forward with policy and review, then possibly in the future appoint a new board that meets the state statute,” Alley reasoned.

But board members didn’t feel comfortable voting to get rid of the current board just yet.

“This board is still in effect until July 1,” Streets pointed out. “That gives us time to look at all our options and get input from not only the council but the citizens.”

Alley, Fields and city manager Marty Lawing will present a new ordinance in the coming weeks, hoping to shift the board so that it complies with HB 601. There’s still no date for when that ordinance will be announced at a city workshop, but WINK News be there. The final review board meeting before the new law goes into place is set for Tuesday, June 11.

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