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Miami-Dade County formally restarted its civilian oversight board this week after 12 years without one, reviving a panel created to examine police misconduct allegations.
Gathering in the county’s main library in downtown Miami, the newly created Independent Civilian Panel took no action beyond appointing a committee to help the search for a full-time director. But the meeting was the first time this kind of county board has existed since 2009, when county commissioners idled the prior panel by stripping it of funds during a budget crunch.
Property-tax revenues rebounded but the civilian panel remained defunct until last year in the wake of George Floyd’s killing during an arrest in Minneapolis. Then-commissioner Barbara Jordan finally passed legislation in August 2020 to create a new board after two prior versions failed from vetoes by then-mayor Carlos Gimenez.
“This makes me feel so good,” Jordan, who left office in November, said as the first civilian to address the board Tuesday afternoon. “We spent so much time trying to get this process re-instituted. ... You give credibility to the process.”
It took more than a year, but here are the members of Miami-Dade's new Independent Civilian Panel, set up as a police watchdog board by the @MiamiDadeBCC in 2020. Has its first meeting today at 4 at the main county library downtown pic.twitter.com/z7YuemyQ6w
— Doug Hanks (@doug_hanks) October 12, 2021
As created under Jordan’s legislation, the board can examine complaints against county police officers, with open hearings and findings released to the public. The board has limited subpoena power — they can be issued, but not for county employees, including police officers — and can’t interfere with investigations by existing county agencies, including the Police Department.
Commissioners appoint members of the panel, which had too few members for more than a year to allow for its first meeting. One issue was a nominating process held up by vacancies on other county boards assigned the task of suggesting names for commission appointments to the Civilian Panel.
Jordan’s ordinance also limited how many members could have the same professional backgrounds — a provision designed to prevent a panel stacked with retired police officers. Commissioners eliminated that rule in September after several of them named lawyers to the panel.
The final makeup of the 13-member panel includes two former county police officers: Luis Fernandez and Raymond Melcon; along with a former mayor, North Miami’s Josaphat Celestin; a former state senator, Oscar Braynon II; and a former Coral Gables commissioner, Jeannett Slesnick.
“I’m thrilled to be here, and anxious to get to work,” lawyer Pam Perry, a member participating by Zoom, said during introductions Tuesday.
The oversight board is forming as Miami-Dade prepares for a major shake-up of countywide law enforcement, with a new constitutional amendment in Florida requiring Miami-Dade to elect a county sheriff by the end of 2024. Currently, that power is held by the county mayor, who oversees Miami-Dade police officers.
County Commissioner Raquel Regalado urged the oversight board to “provide the county commission with some community guidance” on the best way to transfer to a sheriff system. Jeanne Baker, a longtime advocate for the oversight panel, also encouraged the board to weigh in on how to remain relevant once an elected sheriff takes office.
“It’s very important to start early, with helping the community to think through how this will dovetail when we have a sheriff,” said Baker, a lawyer. “We can have civilian oversight with a sheriff system.”