Gov. DeSantis signs laws criminalizing harassment of first responders, gutting citizen review boards

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Governor Ron DeSantis signed two new laws he contends will protect first responders from harassment on the job, and shield them from misconduct investigations by boards Republicans have characterized as politically motivated.


Democratic lawmakers argue whether it’s observing law enforcement on the street or giving citizens the authority to investigate alleged misconduct on the back end, the new laws will make police less accountable to the community they serve.

The first law (SB 184), makes it a crime to harass first responders and authorizes police, fire, and EMS officials to declare a 25-foot ‘no-go zone’ while they carry out their official duties.

Ignoring the warning and coming too close with the intent to “impede, harass, or threaten” a first responder could result in 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

“You shouldn’t be in a situation where you’re at a traffic stop, you’re responding to a call of someone in distress and then you have people come trying to interdict or trying to harass you,” said DeSantis.

But State Representative Angie Nixon (D-Jacksonville) argued the bill is ambiguous.

Nixon contended the removal of language during the legislative session that had explicitly protected the public’s right to film would make it riskier to observe and document police interactions.

“We know that George Floyd was killed, executed basically, and if that wasn’t caught on camera that police officer may not have been arrested,” Nixon stated.

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The second law signed by DeSantis Friday (HB 601), restricts the state’s 21 existing citizen review boards by prohibiting them from investigating alleged misconduct by individual law enforcement officers.

Sponsor State Representative Wyman Duggan argued the goal is to ensure police aren’t prosecuted in the court of public opinion.

“They can still have all kinds of interactions, conversations with the wider community, which we all want, but they cannot be used as a vehicle to persecute an individual officer who has already been through an internal affairs investigation at their own agency,” said Duggan.

Duggan noted there are several existing layers of accountability for law enforcement officers.

“The Florida Criminal Justice Standards Training Commission, the local state attorney, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida attorney General, the US Attorney and the FBI. That’s seven other forums where an officer’s misconduct can be investigated,” said Duggan.

Angie Nixon, on the other hand, argued the bill guts the already limited ability of citizens to hold bad actors accountable.

She pointed to the recent arrest of a JSO officer who had been previously involved in multiple high-profile alleged misconduct incidents, including the fatal shooting of Jayme Johnson, as evidence more oversight is needed, not less.

“If cops and law enforcement officers are doing the right thing, then they should be fine with citizens just looking out to make sure that nothing was done wrong,” said Nixon.

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Jacksonville Sheriff TK Waters’ office supported the legislation this session.

“Now more than ever, it is imperative that the actions of law enforcement officers are judged by fact and not emotion. I’m grateful for this legislation as I believe it will allow our dedicated law enforcement professionals to continue serving this city with unwavering confidence in their abilities,” said Sheriff Waters in a statement sent to Action News Jax.

The legislation does permit sheriffs and police chiefs throughout the state to establish and appoint their citizen oversight boards.

Those boards would be limited to analyzing and reviewing agency policy and procedures.

Duggan told Action News Jax his legislation also does not prevent local governments from keeping their current citizen review boards or even from establishing new ones, so long as they comply with the new restrictions.

But Nixon predicted without the ability to investigate individual allegations of misconduct, it’s unlikely the boards will continue to operate.

“Despite what my colleague says, that’s not the case. A lot of the boards are going to cease to exist,” said Nixon.

The new restrictions on citizen review boards will kick in on July 1st.

The new penalties for harassing first responders on duty kick in on January 1st, 2025.

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