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Sunday, March 03, 2024
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The Gainesville City Commission held a seven-hour meeting discussing police reform Monday.

The result of seven hours of discussion? A future special meeting where commissioners will discuss city staff’s recommendations. The commission voted to look into implementing a civil citation and diversion program, which would implement fines instead of jail time for some nonviolent crimes, and reallocating money budgeted to vacant positions in Gainesville Police Department. The special meeting date has not been set.

The discussion stems from calls to reform and defund Gainesville Police after several local protests. The meeting consisted of a three-hour GPD presentation, three-hour public comment period and an hour discussion among city commissioners.

GPD is revising its use-of-force policies to require that officers intervene when they see misconduct, said GPD Spokesperson Jorge Campos. Officers will also need to identify a person's medical conditions before using force.

The duty to intervene policy will require more police training, said GPD Chief Tony Jones. Jones also told the city commission GPD wants to expand its body camera program to non-sworn employees, such as police service technicians, which handle traffic infractions.

The department has 107 body cameras, but wants 211 more, Jones said. Almost all officers on patrol have body cameras, he added.

GPD requires all instances of force be reported to supervising officers, Campos said. Supervisors also review body cam and dashboard footage every month for unreported use of force, he said.

The department also uses an early warning system, which means that an investigation is automatically launched when an officer frequently uses force, Campos said.

GPD used force 14 times this year, Campos said. The GPD Internal Affairs Division deemed all instances to be justified.

City Commissioner Gail Johnson asked Campos and Jones about the culture of silence among officers, which, she said, occurs frequently in police departments. Jones said GPD has improved reporting misconduct, but more training is needed.

“Yes, there is still room that we have to grow, but the key is that we are moving it in that direction,” Jones said.

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To Campos, all organizations have similar codes of silence, but they need to work to end them.

“We are dealing with human beings here,“ Campos said. “Take any profession out there and tell me they don’t have some code of silence when they are working amongst it.”

During public comment, many callers said they want the department’s $36 million budget reduced and reallocated to community resources.

Sean Trainor, an organizer for Gainesville Socialist Alternative, said he wants GPD’s funding cut in half. He said the funds should be used for affordable housing projects, a publically owned grocery store in East Gainesville and community mental health resources.

“We cannot justify spending $36 million on policing when our community has so many more desperate needs,” Trainor said.

Kali Blount, a local activist, asked the city commission to form a civilian-staffed police review board to investigate instances of police misconduct.

“We have two models of policing,” Blount said. “In Black communities, it's harass and coerce. In white communities, it’s serve and protect.”

Other callers disagreed with the movement to decrease funding.

One caller said reducing GPD’s funding would be a “catastrophic mistake” because, to him, their capacity to respond to active shooter situations would be reduced.

“Have we forgot about Stoneman Douglas High school?” the caller said. “Have we forgot about people coming to schools with guns?”

Another caller said he benefited from GPD’s Reichert House, a program where officers mentor at-risk youth. He said he went from prison to attending college and owning a business because of the program. To the caller, defunding GPD means that programs like Reichert House could be lost.

However, not all callers agreed that GPD should run programs like Reichert House. A caller in favor of defunding GPD said he believes these programs should be administered through educational departments instead.

After public comment ended, the commissioners discussed how they would move forward.

Johnson addressed some callers' concerns about GPDs’ involvement with community youth programs.

“Do these services for youth belong in the police department?” a caller said. “What would it look like if we reimagined this and had a youth and family services department?”

She also asked Jones if GPD has reduced the number of people it arrests during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jones said GPD has decreased the number of arrests for non-violent offenses. He didn’t give any more details about the reduction.

The GPD budget isn’t as bloated as other police departments, said City Commissioner David Arreola. However, he said he would support a civil citation program, which allows people accused of a crime to appear in court on a later date, to divert people from jail.

“If we decide to move towards adult civil citation programs, there will be aspects of the budget that will be obsolete,” Arreola said. “But I want to know what those are, and I want a policy created that is actually going to achieve those goals.”

Arreola said community economic problems can’t be solved with half of GPD’s budget. To Arreola, community issues have been neglected by the state—and city—for a long time.

City Commissioner Harvey Ward said examining GPD and weighing the commission's options would help inform their future decisions.

“We want to make slow, deliberate, good decisions,” Ward said.

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