Airing of grievances: Gov. DeSantis signs bill requiring public meetings to fire Police Chiefs

The change comes after several Police Chief firings in Florida in recent years.

Starting next month, any city that fires its Police Chief will have to give them a chance to respond to the move in front of the community they served.

The new rule, effective July 1, does nothing to keep municipalities from giving their top cops walking papers. But it mandates that cities must allow their just-terminated Police Chiefs to appear at the local governing body’s next regularly scheduled public meeting so they can deliver a “full and complete response” to the move.

It also requires cities to provide written notice of the termination to Police Chiefs and prohibits nondisclosure clauses in employment contracts for Police Chiefs that would otherwise bar them from publicly responding to the termination.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the measure (HB 935) to effectuate those changes Thursday.

The Legislature voted unanimously for the measure, which Republican Reps. Berny Jacques of Clearwater and Mike Giallombardo of Cape Coral sponsored.

Zephyrhills Republican Sen. Danny Burgess, who carried a similar proposal (SB 998), said the legislation’s goal is to support law enforcement and improve transparency in local government dealings.

In their original forms, HB 935 and SB 998 would have also required cities to allow Police Chiefs to have a lawyer make a case against firing them and empowered Chiefs to sue “any person or group of persons” for damages stemming from false complaints made against them.

Jacques removed both those provisions through amendments before the measure passed.

Discussing the legislation in February, Burgess said he’d heard from Police Chiefs across Florida who complained of interference in their duties by City Managers, Councils and Commissions, though he declined to name any specific city or episode.

“This just provides safeguards and transparency … in the event that one of these circumstances arises (so) it would be vetted out in the public under the sunshine if it wasn’t with cause on its face,” Burgess said at the time. “It just makes sure, like anything else, if there’s a termination it should be with cause and if it’s not with cause then there should at least just be a presentation or at least an opportunity for a hearing before the City Council.”

“It’s more difficult now than ever to be a law enforcement officer,” he continued. “They’re under the microscope like never before.”

There have been several instances of fired Police Chiefs in Florida in recent years. Last month, Pembroke Pines terminated Police Chief David Howard just one year after the city launched its police department. The reason for Howard’s firing was not discussed at the meeting where his employment ended, and Howard has since complained the city “terminated me for no cause.”

In December, then-Tampa Police Chief Mary O’Connor resigned after body camera footage was made public showing her flashing her badge during a traffic stop and asking the cop who pulled her over to “just let us go.”

In March 2022, Fort Lauderdale fired its Police Chief at the time, Larry Scirotto, after just six months on the job amid allegations he promoted minority officers based on race, gender and sexual orientation. The city had hired him partly to boost diversity within its police force.

In late 2021, the Miami City Commission fired its Police Chief, Art Acevedo, who’d been on the job for just five months.

Acevedo, whom Miami Mayor Francis Suarez described at the time of his hiring as the “Michael Jordan of Police Chiefs,” had sent Suarez a memo days before the City Commission meeting complaining of repeated attempts by Commissioners Joe Carollo and Alex Diaz de la Portilla to interfere with police affairs. The two men then led a call for his investigation and termination.

Acevedo has since become the interim Police Chief of Aurora, Colorado. He also has a pending wrongful termination lawsuit against the city and last month was a key witness in a separate suit two local men filed against Carollo for, in part, using police to harass their businesses. The jury in that case found Carollo liable, awarding the plaintiffs $63.5 million in compensation.


Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics contributed to this report.

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.

One comment

  • tom palmer

    June 27, 2023 at 5:52 pm

    Fair enough. If they are worth firing, the truth will out

Comments are closed.


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