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Florida Lawmakers Want Less Arrests For Juveniles

The Florida Channel

A bill that would give juveniles more leniency passed its second Senate committee Wednesday. But law enforcement officials don’t want it to pass.

Misdemeanors like petty theft, riots and marijuana possession would no longer warrant an arrest. Instead, officers would be required to issue a civil citation, if it’s a first-time offense. Battery is also on that list, as long as the victim approves. Bill sponsor Senator Thad Altman says he wants to keep kids from getting criminal records.

“What we’re trying to do is to keep kids out of the system," Altman says. "We’re trying to make that first encounter with law enforcement one that’s not quite as negative and ominous as a lifetime arrest record.”

After opposition from law enforcement groups, Altman added an amendment to change the age cutoff from 17 to 15. But critics still aren’t happy. Frank Fabrizio of the Florida Police Chiefs Association says some things can’t be solved with a civil citation.

“OK, we go to a large fight, a fray, riot. We go to that out there. How is that quelling that situation right then, we’re gonna give ‘em a civil citation and walk away? There are instances where we have to make an arrest,” Fabrizio says.

Barney Bishop of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance is also opposed. He says the bill allows kids to walk all over law enforcement.                     

“These kids will know right away what this means. This means that they can sit there, they can shoot a bird, they can tell the officer to go ‘F’ themself, and that officer has to give them a civil citation; are you kidding me? This is wrong,” Bishop says.

Others are concerned because there’s no civil citation record. Sarrah Carroll, a lobbyist for the Florida Sheriffs Association, says juveniles could avoid being arrested for a second offense by going to a different county.

“There is not a single place that has all of the civil citations that have been issued throughout the state," Carroll says. "And what that means is you might have a kid in Valousia County who goes into Daytona Beach and can commit a civil citation without the other law enforcement officer’s jurisdiction knowing.”

But Meredith Stanfield of the Department of Juvenile Justice says a citation database will be available in the spring.

A similar bill is moving in the House.

Ashley Tressel is a senior Communication and English student at Florida State University. Before WFSU, she interned at the Executive Office of the Governor and The Borgen Project, a national nonprofit for global poverty. She also wrote freelance for Carbonated.tv, a multimedia news site and served as managing editor for the FSU International Programs magazine, Nomadic Noles, in Valencia, Spain. After graduation, Ashley plans to embark on her journalism career somewhere in Colorado.