Fort Lauderdale, FL – The Broward County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) has ordered deputies not to enforce the state’s newly-passed “anti-riot” law unless department administrators determine it is absolutely necessary.
The directive was made to avoid having “any overzealous deputies utilizing the new law to conduct enforcement that could violate people’s civil liberties,” BCSO Executive Director of Law Enforcement Colonel David Holmes said in an email to district captains on April 21, the Associated Press reported.
Col. Holmes alleged the anti-riot law could negatively impact the BCSO’s attempts to connect with members of the community, according to the Associated Press.
BCSO deputies have been told that any request to enforce the law must be sent up the chain of command for approval, and only in the most extreme of circumstances.
House Bill 1 passed largely along partisan lines earlier this month with a vote of 23-17, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
It has since been signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who championed the legislation.
The measure provides civil legal immunity to motorists who drive through groups of people blocking roadways, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
It also establishes a mandatory six-month jail sentence for anyone convicted of battering a law enforcement officer during a riot, and denies bail for anyone charged in connection with a riot until after they have made their initial court appearance.
Rioters who destroy paintings, flags, memorials, plaques, structures, or any other object established to honor historical events or people can be charged with a felony offense that carries a possible 10-year prison sentence, the Associated Press reported.
Local governments that attempt to interfere with the police response to violent riots could be stripped of civil liability protections under the measure.
“This bill is about preventing violence,” the bill’s sponsor, Senator Danny Burgess (R-Zephyrhills), said during the debate on the Senate floor, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Burgess shot down allegations that the law will shield drivers who might target protesters by intentionally ramming into them, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
“That is no way protected in this bill,” he said.
He said the provision would only apply to motorists who are trying to protect themselves from demonstrators.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida released a statement denouncing the passing of the bill, which it claimed was “designed to chill and criminalize Floridians for exercising their First Amendment right to protest.”
They further alleged the measure will “shield violent counter-protesters from civil liability for killing a peaceful protester or demonstrator with their vehicle.”
“By defining ‘rioting,’ the bill grants police officers broad discretion in deciding who could be arrested and charged with a third-degree felony at a protest and fails to provide protection for people who have not engaged in any disorderly and violent conduct,” the ACLU of Florida said.
The group said the measure was also a ploy by state officials to “usurp control of a city budget and amend it to their liking.”
ACLU of Florida Executive Director Micah Kubic declared the bill “is racist, unconstitutional, and anti-democratic,” and that it was “purposely designed to embolden the disparate police treatment we have seen over and over again directed towards Black and brown people who are exercising their constitutional right to protest.”
“This bill is a disgrace to our state,” Kubic said.