Criminal justice reform is a hot topic in Tampa Bay no matter which side
BARTOW, Florida – Law enforcement agencies, residents, prosecutors and lawyers in the Tampa Bay area met Tuesday evening to discuss criminal justice reform.
From Pinellas to Polk Counties, interested parties discussed civil citations programs, Florida riot law, and communication between law enforcement and residents.
Gi Gi Van Doren participated in a round table sponsored by Florida DART Criminal Justice Collaboration.
Her son walked through a stop sign but didn’t realize he had a suspended license. Soon he was handcuffed while his preschool daughter watched.
“It was quite traumatic for the little one,” she said.
DART is teaming up with Florida prosecutors to advocate for statewide criminal justice reform.
During Tuesday’s panel discussion, the St. Petersburg police chief and Sarasota sheriff were asked to expand civilian citations programs, which Van Doren said helped his son.
Hillsborough County officials said they have reduced arrests of minors by nearly 60% since 2016, from 5,800 to 2,400 per year.
“They reduce recidivism. They take children away from the downward spiral of the system and they save taxpayer money,” Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said.
There was also an in-person meeting at Bartow Town Hall, where Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd answered questions about Florida’s new riot and police reform laws.
The sheriff, who is influential statewide, is wary of reduced sentences, pointing out that crime in Florida is at its lowest in 50 years. He also argued that paperwork errors already left the discretion to officers.
“Here’s a thought for you, how about not breaking the law? Said Judd. “Then you don’t have to worry about the criminal justice system or criminal justice reform.”
He answered questions from locals who feared those peacefully protesting would be trapped by the new, tougher laws. He argued that it is written to allow vocal but peaceful dissent.
Bartow’s Mary Poindexter argued that much of law enforcement – especially when it comes to African American communities – is about communication.
“There is a perceived notion [among officers]”she said.” Instead of going out there with an open mind and thinking I’m going into a situation, let’s see what we need to do. “
Although there was not a broad agreement, at least for one night, there was talk.