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Monday, October 25, 2021
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Gainesville City Commissioners laid down groundwork for potential reform of Gainesville Police at a Monday meeting.

The commission voted unanimously on three separate resolutions, each centered on police oversight and the Black Lives Matter movement. One of the resolutions reworked and expanded the city’s Police Advisory Council to review GPD’s practices and determine what programs should be cut, moved to another government agency or receive more funding.

The resolutions came after protests in town demanded defunding the police. City Commissioner Harvey Ward said he wasn’t prepared to change GPD’s funding from the city budget but said the Police Advisory Council would help inform future decisions.

Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said the council will have an advising role, but the commission would ultimately lead any future actions, such as potentially decreasing the role of the GPD.

“We need them and our community to know our commission is the gatekeeper,” Poe said. “We are the ones responsible for taking these actions.”

GPD receives 93,000 calls a year, Poe said. The commission shouldn’t wait for the council’s recommendations to increase the number of mental health responders and programs that decrease the role of armed officers responding to calls.

City Commissioner Gail Johnson said members of the Fraternal Order of Police, a national police union with more than 330,000 members, would have to be part of discussions with the council. Cooperation from the union is necessary for the changes to be successful, she said.

The Fraternal Order of Police should lead the charge for change, said City Commissioner David Arreola. The Police Advisory Council will help the commission know what parts of the police department can be removed and defunded. He also said he supports moving funding from police programs that are removed to community resources.

The second resolution creates a community response team that would provide guidance in the event of civil unrest, like in Minneapolis after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was murdered by a now-fired police officer.

The team will also provide general guidance about racial issues in the city, said Teneeshia Marshall, the city’s equal opportunity director, whose office will assemble the team.

Elected officials, community leaders and mental health professionals will make up the team, Marshall said, adding that mental health professionals have the skills to manage the strong emotions that surround situations like Minneapolis.

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“We recognize in situations like these, people are in pain, and people are hurting,” Marshall said.

The final resolution explored declaring Juneteenth a citywide holiday next year. Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans, could become a paid holiday for city employees.

The commission also voted to display a Black Lives Matter banner or crosswalk in a prominent location in the city. The method, design and location of the display wasn’t decided at the meeting.

While some residents said the commission’s resolutions were reactionary during public comment, others said they don’t go far enough.

“I love the idea of a response team, but if we wanna be proactive, defund the police and put that money into communities,” said Wallace Mazon, a local activist.

Contact Tristan twood@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @TristanDWood.

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