Miami-Dade County commissioners decided Wednesday to approve an ordinance setting up an independent civilian panel to review cases of police use of force.
Commissioners voted on the ordinance 8-5 at a virtual meeting where many community members called for more scrutiny of police, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
“That’s the fear in me as a Black man. That’s the fear in my son. That’s the fear of everyone who cares for this issue who's asking the question of how are we gonna build trust in our community," Commissioner Jean Monestime said.
As it stands, commissioners can select these members — but the purpose of the oversight panel is to have a diverse group of civilians give recommendations in an effort to properly investigate cases of police brutality and excessive force.
“Although we may have over 20 agencies that investigate police, they are just that. Agencies. They are not the citizens," Commissioner Barbara Jordan said.
Some county commissioners argued that there are already avenues to complain about police — including internal affairs — and think it should be left to voters to decide.
“I do think that our police officers are being blamed for the ills that are now happening in our society instead of going after the root of what should happen," Commissioner Joe Martinez said. "I’m not in support of this item, but I am in support of ... putting it to the voters."
The county had a review panel until 2009, when the commission stripped its funding during the budget crunch caused by the 2008 recession. County Mayor Carlos Gimenez had vetoed the panel back in 2018 over who would be on it. He and some commissioners were concerned over how members would be given subpoena power as well as how they would fund this group.
Commissioners in support said that this is not an attempt to defund the police.
“It’s not about anti-police, it’s pro community trust," Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava said. "This is building transparency, accountability and trust. Police cannot do their jobs if they do not have the trust of the community.”
Commissioners also voted in favor of placing an amendment on the November ballot, which, if voters approve, would make the civilian panel a permanent part of the county government.
Gimenez will now have the power to approve or veto this ordinance.