FORT MYERS, FLA — Between January 2020 and May 2021, the Fort Myers Police Department has received at least 117 citizen complaints.
That's according to Danielle O'Halloran, who is the Chair for the Fort Myers Citizen Review Board.
"We still heard 85 cases in 2020. And so far have heard 32 cases in 2021," she said.
The group is appointed oversight committee, whose job is to review those complaints, see if they're true, and determine if the department held that officer accountable.
They also keep track of repeat offenders.
"How many times has an officer had a complaint filed against him or her," said O'Halloran.
After reviewing a case, the board is then tasked with making a recommendation to the department.
"Our votes and comments are then submitted to the chief of police and then it is then vested in him of her at that point if they will adopt our suggestion," said O'Halloran.
The goal is to provide some level of transparency when it comes to police discipline, but because all they can do is "suggest" changes, Florida Gulf Coast University professor and police expert Dr. David Thomas worries the board lacks "teeth."
"What does it really mean because there's not legislative intent," he said.
Dr. Thomas says unfortunately most police oversight boards are like this, with the one in Los Angeles being a rare exception.
"They have the ability to fire the chief, they have the ability to renew his contract," he said.
And he says in order to create true change the board in Fort Myers will have to wield more power.
"It's just to kind of make sure the police department is doing what it's supposed to," he said.
It's something O'halloran tells FOX 4 that the board is aware of this critique and that it's something they're looking into. But she also says the board is facing another big problem due to the lack of participation from the people who complain.
She says most people who filed complaints don't show up for their hearings. This often leaves the board with having to make a decision based on the officer's side of things and any other evidence they're given.
If you'd like to attend the next Citizens Review Board meeting in Fort Myers, they'll be meeting on July 13 at 5:30 p.m.