Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried unveiled policies Thursday directing law enforcement to limit use of force and take discrimination seriously.
The move comes as tenuous relations between police and minority communities fuel nationwide protests. She cited the names of several Black Americans whose deaths sparked controversy as she released the new directives.
“As a former public defender, I share the deep frustration of the Black community at the senseless, continued murder of Black people, and the failure of leaders in positions of power to make impactful changes.”
Fried created a Diversity and Inclusion Work Group within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs in May, which reviewed agency policies and developed recommendations for improvement.
Some of the changes were small, like adding the word “inclusion” to an official list of the agency’s core values.
Others could create more immediate impacts on day-to-day policy within the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement. De-escalation techniques must be applied by officers before resorting to force. Neck holds are not expressly unauthorized as a restraint technique. Those who witness what they consider excessive use of force must immediately report actions.
There’s cultural changes outside of enforcement arms for FDACS as well. Gender identity will be added to a list of protected classes, and a mechanism for third-party complaints about discrimination has been created. Those changes further increase LGBTQ protections put in place shortly after Fried took office last year. Florida’s only Democrat holding state office appointed the first LGBTQ consumer advocate.
Social media policies have been updated to make clear racist posts by employees will not be tolerated. Contract language within the agency will be reviewed to ensure documents accurately reflect agency values.
The proactive stance to reduce discrimination already has won praise from minority advocates within the Florida Legislature.
“Members of the Black Caucus have worked for decades to build equity in our state and our government,” said Sen. Bobby Powell, chair of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus.
“We appreciate that Commissioner Fried, as an elected Cabinet member, is acknowledging this fight, making it a priority, and taking action to make an impact. Commissioner Fried has shown a strong commitment to increasing diversity, inclusion, and equity within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services since taking office, and we stand united with her towards progress.”