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Keeping citizens involved in policing; Fort Myers works to keep review board under new law

Keeping you involved in policing; Fort Myers works to keep review board under new law
Fort Myers Police
Posted at 3:57 PM, Apr 17, 2024

The only city in Southwest Florida with a citizens police review board will have to decide how the public can be involved in policing in the future, as a new law effectively bans or limits those boards across the state.

Fort Myers established the citizens police review board in 2009 - just the 5th city in the state to create one.

Nine appointed volunteers review complaints regarding officer misconduct, excessive force, and department policies.

They pass along any recommendations to the Police Chief.

“I think that it was one of the greatest things we’ve ever accomplished in the city of Fort Myers,” said City Councilman Johnny Streets, who is a former police officer.

“We need to be talking to each other. We need to be listening to each other. We need to be supportive of each other.”

Under a new law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, city and county citizen review boards will lose their ability to investigate officer misconduct.

Instead, sheriffs and police chiefs will be able to appoint their own boards to review policies and procedures - just not individual officers.

DeSantis argues the boards have become too political.

“They’ll stack it with activists,” the governor said at a bill signing last week. “And they’ll just start reviewing things and trying to put people under the gun, even if there is no basis to do that.”

There are currently 21 citizens review boards in the state, according to a report from the LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University.

More than half of those boards were created since 2021.

“I don’t disagree with the governor,” said Fort Myers City Attorney Grant Alley, who believes the Fort Myers board operates with integrity.

“There were some boards that were rogue. We may be victims of that correction."

Alley says the Mayor and City Council will have to review how the board operates in the future.

The new law takes effect in July.

However, Alley says the city still believes in involving citizen input to policing.

“We can’t stop citizens involvement with policing,” said Alley. “Nobody wants that.”