Bill creating harassment-free zone around police dies for second consecutive year

Manhattan 2019. Behind the police with gun belt
The first bill filed for the 2022 Legislative Session never got a hearing.

For the second consecutive year, a bill to create a harassment-free zone around law enforcement officers has died.

The bill (HB 11) aimed to target those who approach police with the intent to disrupt an officer’s duties after being warned to remain at a distance. A person would risk being arrested if he or she approached an officer to harass or provoke a physical response.

Hialeah Rep. Alex Rizo filed the measure July 19. Senate President Pro Tempore Aaron Bean, a fellow Republican, carried the bill’s Senate companion (SB 1872).

Despite Bean’s pull in the Senate and the fact that HB 11 was the first bill filed in the 2022 Legislative Session, neither version received a single committee hearing in either chamber.

Now 51 days into Session, when most committees can’t meet without special approval from Senate President Wilton Simpson, Rizo will likely have to wait until 2023 to see whether a third go at sponsoring the legislation will work.

The proposed law — identical to bills Rizo, Rep. Sam Garrison and Sen. Danny Burgess filed for the 2021 Session — would have gone into effect this October and apply to those approaching or remaining within 30 feet of an officer after receiving a warning. Violators would be subject to arrest and charged with a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine or up to 60 days in jail.

Last June, Miami Beach passed a law banning people from standing within 20 feet of police officers with the “intent to impede, provoke or harass” them. The city froze enforcement of that rule after just one month, during which police made a series of controversial arrests, including one in which an officer roughed up a man who was filming an ongoing, and even more violent, arrest.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle later announced battery charges against five of the arresting officers. She said all charges against the man filming the incident had been dropped.

Rizo told the Miami Herald Editorial Board in September his bill was a “cut and paste” of the Miami Beach ordinance — plus an extra 10 feet.

Proponents of Rizo’s bill, like Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Martinez, a former lieutenant with the county police department, said the 30-foot standard would safeguard officers from harm. While the legislation never got a hearing at the state level, it received plenty of discussion at the local level in Miami-Dade County.

In sponsoring a local resolution in October supporting Rizo’s measure, Martinez cited the “21-foot rule,” which in police training denotes the distance officers must have in order to react to someone running toward them with a knife.

“It might look like a lot,” he said. “But unless you’re on the receiving end like I was, it’s not.”

Jose “Pepe” Diaz, the County Commission chair, described Rizo’s bill as a “tool” officers could use to better protect themselves as police-citizen interactions have grown more hostile. He joined Martinez and Commissioners René García and Rebeca Sosa in voting for the item, which failed 7-4.

“People calling them names, saying things about their family members, trying to draw a person out to be aggressive in return — this is not what society is about,” Diaz said. “That’s a new trend, and this is part of dealing with that trend.”

But several newer members of the Commission argued Rizo’s bill had less to do with officer safety and more to do with police control. Keon Hardemon, a former public defender whose mother and several family members are or were in law enforcement, used a tape measure to demonstrate the distance Floridians would theoretically have to remain from police or face criminal penalties.

“This distance is further than the distance of being at your front porch and an officer at your sidewalk,” he said. “This distance is not about … the intent to strike or harm an officer. This is about maintaining control of communities. Because an officer is never going to tell you at this distance, ‘Back up. You’re too close.’”

Hardemon said: “This is not good legislation.”

Kionne McGhee, a criminal defense lawyer who won election to the Commission after a term as House Minority Leader, contended the bill is designed to deter and reduce the quality of filmed police encounters.

“This is basically a bill to kill camera pixels,” he said.

Oliver Gilbert III, the Commission vice-chair and a former prosecutor, noted HB 11 is redundant because obstructing officers in the lawful exercise of their duty is already a misdemeanor.

“Oftentimes, in an effort to solve a problem or to address an issue, we tend to overreach, and we criminalize things that ought not to be criminalized,” he said. “People have a right to stand and watch and do whatever it is they’re going to do as long as they’re not stopping that officer from doing their job.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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