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Easy fix for police panel

Easy fix for police panel

The Herald Tribune

Published: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

Last Modified: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at 6:16 p.m.

The easiest problem regarding Florida’s Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission has been fixed with a change of membership. The most difficult challenges — promoting fairness for law enforcement officers facing discipline, and ensuring accountability to the public — remain.

Gov. Rick Scott recently announced that he dismissed two members of the commission and accepted the resignation of a third. All three are employed by the same agencies as three remaining members — a clear violation of a Florida law that states “there may be only one appointment” to the commission “from any employing agency.”

Due to appointments made by former Gov. Charlie Crist, the commission had two members each from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office and the Tallahassee Police Department.

Scott is now responsible for the commission, which has among its legislated duties to “review and administer appropriate administrative sanctions in instances when an officer, a training school instructor, or a training school is found in violation of Florida Statutes and Commission standards.”

A slight imbalance

The governor addressed the membership violation by dismissing rank-and-file officers from Jacksonville and Palm Beach. He also accepted the Tallahassee police chief’s resignation. The sheriffs of Jacksonville and Palm Beach remain on the commission; a Tallahassee officer stays as well.

Ernest George, chairman of the commission and a representative of the Police Benevolent Association, chided Scott for dismissing two officers while only one administrator stepped down.

But that slight imbalance can be remedied. The law requires that the commission have five law enforcement officers with the rank of sergeant or below. So, two of Scott’s replacements must be from the rank-and-file of law enforcement.

Before the changes prompted by Scott, the commission had four officers and two sergeants. Eleven members of the 19-member commission have management positions, another member is an academic and George is affiliated with the PBA union.

As we’ve written previously, the Legislature should change the criteria for commissioners to increase the number of members with no ties to law enforcement; unfortunately, lawmakers declined to take up any changes during its annual session.

Herald-Tribune series exposed flaws

For now, Scott is obligated to fulfill the requirements of the law. We hope he appoints two officers and a police chief who will promote fairness for officers facing discipline or decertification and more accountability.

As a Herald-Tribune news series last year indicated, the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission has a mixed record, at best, of ensuring accountability.

After publication of the series, “Unfit for Duty,” Mark Zadra, a senior official of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, addressed the state Senate’s criminal justice committee. Zadra suggested that the problems exposed by the series were deeper than had been reported.

He said that in nearly half of the misconduct cases reviewed last year, the commission ignored staff advice, dismissed credible evidence and allowed officers to return to work against staff recommendations.

“The laws in Florida are strong,” Zadra said “But the execution is flawed.”

Scott commendably tried to ensure that the commission membership complies with the law.

But the governor, the Legislature and law enforcement agencies throughout the state have a long way to go toward improving the execution of the law intended to protect both the public and the professional reputation of Florida’s officers.

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