CORAL SPRINGS, FL – After the killing of George Floyd sparked mass protests across the country, many cities began talks about “defunding” police – the idea of moving chunks of local money out of police budgets into investments in marginalized sections of cities through economic development and social services.
Those conversations picked up speed in Coral Springs last week.
A new task force met behind closed doors to give community leaders access to police administrators and allow them to review policing policies and procedures and discuss other issues on their minds.
And at a City Commission meeting, one of the candidates in the Coral Springs City Commission election, Nancy Metayer, read a letter listing a series of demands, which called for government agencies to “reimagine how we both serve and protect our communities - especially those that are disproportionately impacted by inequity.”
Her requests were made during a public comment period of the meeting which didn’t require a response from commissioners.
But TAPinto Coral Springs asked Metayer’s opponents in the Seat #3 and Seat #5 City Commission races to offer their insights on law enforcement spending and operations, as well as economic development investments, which were part of Metayer’s demands.
Here were Metayer’s specific requests:
- “Drastically increased funds for economic development for small and informal businesses, as well as human services, including emergency response social workers, reflected in the 2020-2021 budget.”
- Create and “fully fund a diverse Civilian Investigative Panel with subpoena power.”
- “Divert previously allocated resources from CSPD (Coral Springs Police Department) toward investment in unarmed crisis first responders, trained mental health providers, and code enforcement.”
- “Eliminate fines and fees (such as driver's license suspensions for non-moving violations), which serve to keep communities in a cycle of poverty and push them into the criminal justice system for non-criminal offenses.”
- “Decriminalize violations of municipal ordinances and expand the civil citation program to include all misdemeanor offenses.”
The candidates in the election responded below, answering in different ways. Some offered general statements about Metayer’s calls-for-action, others honed in on specific points.
Candidate Randal Cutter (Seat #3) focused on decriminalizing violations of municipal ordinances.
Cutter said: “There are many different types of municipal ordinances, and certainly some must be excluded from such sweeping change targeted at how we handle violations of those ordinances. Certain sexual offenders, by municipal ordinance, are prohibited from living within 2500 feet of any place where children gather, such as schools and bus playgrounds.
“I think most of our residents would agree that violation of this municipal ordinance is of a totally different variety than an ordinance about graffiti. Such sweeping statements may sound good, but when you actually look at their impact, there can be cause for grave concern.
“In addition, it is my understanding that most of the violations of Coral Springs municipal code are handled as civil citations, and that prosecutions are handled under state law.”
In response, Metayer said the point she was making about the ordinances is that some of them can result in misdemeanors and lead violators, unnecessarily, into the criminal justice system. In many cases, there should be alternative ways to handle the root of the problem that lead to the violation, she said.
Take, for instance, graffiti, Metayer said. If a teenager sprayed-painted something on a wall, it may mean the young person was bored and needed something to do. So instead of giving that person a violation, there should be a diversion program or the city should create more youth programming to avoid further acts of vandalism from other young people, she said.
Candidate Joe Morera (Seat #3) said, even before the civil unrest and the coronavirus crisis, all parts of the county “had underlying issues that have been brought to light in an amplified way.”
Morera said: “Thoughtful and diligent review will need to be taken at all levels of government in order to properly address these concerns. A shift in the way that we, as a society think and address our approach to things is part of a broader conversation that should be had. I plan to work with the city in every possible way to improve the environment for all."
Candidate Noor Fawzy (Seat #3) addressed policing issues, saying she’s not convinced a civilian investigative panel (CIP) is needed.
She said: “Although as an attorney I support justice and the rule of law, I do not see where our police department has engaged in such a pattern of serious misconduct against our residents so as to justify forcing our residents to "fully fund" the proposed CIP with their hard-earned tax dollars, and notably, the author of the letter fails to give any specific examples of any such pattern of misconduct committed by our police force to justify implementing these demands.
“I believe the money would be better spent on investing in more community policing efforts locally. And it is because I do not see any pattern of serious misconduct on the part of our police department, that I also do not support defunding our police department, as the author of the letter appears to be calling for. I just don't think it's fair to be treating our police department in this manner when they try their hardest to serve us well every day.
“Also important to note is that a CIP is completely useless if it has no real legal power over our police officers. The Florida Supreme Court has already ruled in one instance that it is unconstitutional for a police watchdog group to subpoena police officers to appear before them for any reason. As an attorney who understands just how expensive litigation can be, I do not believe that it would be responsible of me as a future commissioner to entangle our residents in a costly legal battle that we are almost guaranteed to lose if one of our police officers decides to one day file a lawsuit against the proposed CIP. And since we already have the courts open where residents can seek redress for any grievances they may have against anybody, a CIP is basically unnecessary.”
In response, Metayer said she wants Coral Springs to look at creating a police-community advisory group that can hold police accountable for their actions. The group would have the ability to review, research, and recommend changes when necessary.
Candidate Andy Kasten (Seat #3) responded to several of Metayer’s demands.
Regarding increased funds for economic development for small businesses, Kasten said: “I am in favor of increasing funds for economic development. As the current vice-chair of the Coral Springs Redevelopment Agency, I know better than the other candidates how important our businesses are. Businesses are critically important for our city, as businesses contribute highly needed tax dollars.”
On the issue of diverting money from the police department, Kasten said: “We have a great police department. We also have a shortage of police in our city. Taking any money from the police budget would not make sense.”
Overall, Kasten said: “My question to Nancy would be: where are you getting the money to effect these changes? Our budget could have a 5-6 million dollar shortfall due to this COVID crisis. These are great political hot buttons to discuss, however, until you dig into the economic impact of these changes, this is all pie in the sky.”
In response, Metayer said she isn’t calling for dismantling or "defunding" the entire police department. She wants to see Coral Spring pursue more grants for the department or shift the budget in some places to make it possible for mental health, drug abuse, and other counselors to be involved in many kinds of routine police cases. These workers, she said, would take the burden off officers in handling social services-related issues and allow them more time to focus on investigations and other law enforcement work.
And Coral Springs Vice Mayor Joy Carter (Seat #5), said Coral Springs is now going through its next-year budget process and some of the issues Metayer and others are pushing for will be considered for review.
“Ms. Metayer raises thought-provoking points that will be addressed as a whole commission and not just my thoughts. Some of these ideas I believe will be easy to implement and others with modification.
“We are currently in our budget process where these hard choices will be considered for the benefit of all Coral Springs residents. I recall when I was first elected, even though I knew what the city budget was, I was not aware of how stretched the resources were and in spite of all of my passion and good ideas, this is where we decide as a group what is good for the whole city.”
Candidates Abel Pena (Seat #3) and Cathy Remy (Seat #5) could not be reached for comment.
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