Civil citations in limbo as law enforcement seeks discretion

Photo: USMC
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By: Mike Vasilinda | Capitol News Service
March 20, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- First time misdemeanor offenders under the age of 18 would automatically receive a civil citation instead of an arrest record under legislation moving trough the state Senate, but the state's Sheriffs and Police Chiefs are pushing back.

Police would be required to issue civil citations to first time juvenile misdemeanor offenders for eleven crimes outlined in the Senate bill.

The Children’s Campaign has made mandatory citations a top priority after a study found wide disparity from one jurisdiction to another.

Howard Simon is the ACLU’s Executive Director.

"You can’t have a system in which things vary from county to county, from law enforcement agency to law enforcement agency," Simon says.

But police and Sheriffs don’t want to lose complete discretion. They’ve been walking the Capitol hallways arguing against the bill.

Shane Bennet is the Lawtey Police Chief and speaks for the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

“We don’t want to take juveniles to jail, and in some parts of the state the agencies need to push it a little harder,” says Bennet.

Instead of being told what to do, law enforcement likes House Bill 205 filed by St. Petersburg Representative Larry Ahern.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says the House bill requires a juvenile's record to be expunged if they complete diversion.

“Pre-arrest. Post-arrest, a combination of both is that, no putting on a job application you were arrested. No having to claim it. You can lawfully deny it. You get an expungement, and your records are confidential,” says a heated Gualtieri.

But a church group know as FAST, which stands for Faith and Action for Strength Together, has been fighting the Sheriff on civil citations.

“Thank you for considering it” one member told Gualtieri sarcastically.

Geneva Pittman says they want no part of the House bill.

“The word 'arrest' is not what we are after,” Pittman says.

And the disagreement has stalled the civil citation legislation as both sides look for a compromise.

Under the Senate bill, police would still have discretion on misdemeanors, and even some felonies not listed in the bill.

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