Facing a national surge in homicide rates, police departments — now more than ever — must be adequately equipped to respond to crime in a manner most effective to protect the public. This means ensuring officers have the resources and bandwidth to focus on the most serious crimes. With the Legislative Session beginning this week, policymakers are presented with a prime opportunity to do just that.
While hyperpartisan conversations pushing to “defund the police” dominated the narrative in 2020, shifts in public attitude toward law enforcement in 2021 reveal a need to support officers in their mission to protect and serve the community.
According to Pew Research Center, not only has support for increasing spending on policing grown from 31% to 47%, but support for reducing spending on policing has fallen from 25% to 15%.
As a means of freeing up resources appropriated for public safety, policymakers ought to consider proposals from Rep. Toby Overdorf and Sen. Keith Perry. By modifying delayed arraignment policy, their reform would make significant strides toward reallocating Florida’s police time, resources and dollars to focus on the most serious crimes and most serious criminals behind the spike in homicides.
The proposals would direct law enforcement officers to issue prospective arraignment dates to individuals accused of low-level misdemeanors or violations of local ordinances, instead of having to book each of them into jail. Essentially, the measure would just delay arraignment.
When their day in court arrives, the accused still must face a judge, stand trial, and, if convicted, receive and serve their sentence.
The punishment for many of the crimes covered by this legislation typically amounts to fees and community service. That’s because Overdorf and Perry limited the scope of their proposal. For instance, those accused of sexual or violent offenses, federal crimes (including illegal immigration), and felonies are exempted from the privilege of delayed arraignment.
As a result, this bill prioritizes and promotes public safety.
There are multiple interplaying factors that make this true, but the most obvious of these is a little-known fact: on average, law enforcement officers spend only around 4% of their time working cases that involve serious crimes. They are frequently focused on minor crimes and mired in the booking process.
Retaining a system in which this is the case is a disservice to those officers who entered the profession to keep the public safe and is a disservice to the public. Taxpayers deserve law enforcement that is empowered to fight serious crime, not a system forced to waste vital services on low-level crimes and the bureaucratic processes that follow arrests.
Moreover, regardless of guilt or innocence, there is evidence that those who are booked into jail are more likely to be arrested again than those who are not. Thus, expanding the use of delayed arraignment for minor crimes will keep the public safer, actively reducing future crime rates by limiting unnecessary exposure to the justice system.
Another significant factor in the public safety equation is funding. Incarceration is expensive. The national average to house somebody in jail comes in at around $47,000 annually. This cost comes directly from taxpayers’ wallets, forcing them to fund processes that do not always protect their best and most basic interest: safety.
Expanding the tools available to include delayed arraignment will help limit the massive costs associated with jail populations, and reduce a significant problem here in Florida: widespread jail overcrowding. This stretches corrections officers to the limit as they struggle to manage increasingly large numbers of inmates. Additionally, placing so many people in small quarters during a global pandemic is simply not prudent; it puts corrections staff and the incarcerated alike at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Considering the public’s desires and law enforcement’s needs, the proposals from Overdorf and Perry are a win-win for Floridians.
Our public safety will benefit from it.
Sal Nuzzo is vice president of Policy at The James Madison Institute.