‘The work must continue:’ Community leaders react to police accountability bill being signed into Florida law

Reactions mixed as some say measure doesn’t do enough

Many in Central Florida are reacting to the news of Gov. Ron DeSantis signing a police accountability bill into Florida law.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Many in Central Florida are reacting to the news of Gov. Ron DeSantis signing a police accountability bill into Florida law.

Highlights of the bill include limiting the use of chokeholds and training that would instruct officers to intervene when another officer’s excessive use of force and measures on arresting juveniles.

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“This now means by law that no child under the age of 7 will have to endure what Kaia had to endure,” Meralyn Kirkland said.

Kirkland said it’s been a long struggle to get to this day as she celebrated another portion of the bill that states that no children under the age of 7 can be arrested.

Kaia Rolle, Kirkland’s granddaughter, was 6 years old when she was arrested for a temper tantrum at school in 2019.

Kirkland said although she and her family were fighting for children ages 12 and under to be included in the bill, this is still a step in the right direction.

A grandmother speaks after her 6 year old grand daughter was arrested by a school rescource officer.

“This is a start. We have it at the age of 7 and I think the concession is that Kaia was 6 when it happened, she’s now 8, so her own law doesn’t not apply to her,” Kirkland said.

Kirkland said when she broke the news to her granddaughter, she was still happy that something has been done.

“She was like, ‘Grandma, that means I helped my friends and other children not to go through what I go through,’” Kirkland said.

Activists and community leaders are also reacting to the bill signing with mixed reactions.

Lawanna Gelzer and other activists said the police reform needs more teeth and does little to truly improve community relations with law enforcement. She wants items like qualified immunity to be addressed as the state moves forward.

“Until we start talking about qualified immunity and something that will hold these officers accountable for their bad behavior, why would they ever change?” Gelver said.

While other community leaders agree saying more needs to be done, some like attorney and chairwoman of the Orlando Police Review Board said Caila Coleman at least it’s a start.

“To have a bill that’s in place where we’re talking about police officers who have a duty to intervene now whereas before we didn’t have that, where we have mandatory training for police officers statewide where before we didn’t have that, that makes me, like, very happy,” Coleman said.

Bishop Kelvin Cobaris said the discussion is far from over.

“We see now that lawmakers are hearing us and there are some actions moving in the right direction, but the work must continue,” Cobrais said.

News 6 examined how police departments are evolving as part of the pilot episode of Solutionaries, which debuted on June 18. You can watch the episode in its entirety here.

About the Author:

Brian Didlake joined the News 6 team as a reporter in March 2021.