Florida state

Florida’s court system is unlike Florida

It’s troubling but not surprising: Florida’s criminal justice system is nothing like the communities it serves. At each stage of their interaction with the system, Floridians of color are much more likely to encounter someone white with the power to influence their destiny. As the Tampa Bay weatherAs Kavitha Surana recently reported, the justice system remains predominantly white, from the police on the ground to the judges in the courtroom. The results show the incredible challenges of diversifying law enforcement and ensuring fairness in the justice system for all.

A Time The survey found that nearly 80 percent of the state’s 425 senior officials in the criminal justice system are white, even though whites make up 53 percent of the state’s population. About a third of Florida’s prison population and more than half of its prison population are black, although black people represent less than 17 percent of the state’s residents. More than a quarter of the state’s population identifies as Hispanic, and although this percentage is expected to increase, Hispanic representation in many Florida jurisdictions still lags behind in the criminal justice system.

Experts blame a multitude of factors for these disparities. The racial imbalance within the prison population was due in part to the war on drugs and zero tolerance policies over the past decades that focused more on punishment than treatment, a backward approach that has hurt generations of people. families and fell disproportionately on people of color.

In terms of minority representation in police services and other parts of the criminal justice system, many of the same barriers exist in other employment sectors. Applicants lack educational opportunities, practical experience, and business and political connections that can help land a job. But minorities who have risen through the ranks of Florida’s justice system point to other factors, ranging from minority historical distrust of law enforcement to the culture of a justice system that in many places devalues ​​- or is downright hostile – the concept. of diversity.

“Historically, individuals in some communities have felt oppressed by law enforcement,” said Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Daryl Manning, a black man who grew up in Queens, NY, and has come to in Florida two unrelated decades ago. “We can’t put our heads in the sand and think that things will improve on their own without an active position. “

Across Tampa Bay, the lack of representation has been slow to change in law enforcement agencies, the Time analysis found. Police departments and sheriff’s offices are the front lines of the criminal justice system, and those who move up through the ranks help shape the content of race relations in a community.

the Time asked for the most recent demographics on the staff of six major law enforcement agencies in Tampa Bay. In the data provided, most are over 70 percent white.

Of all the agencies surveyed, the Tampa Police Department patrols the most diverse population, but is the least representative and has made the least progress. The agency was 69% White in 2010 and remained 69% White in 2020. About 57% of Tampa residents identify as black, Hispanic, Asian, or other.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is 78% white. Overall, this reflects the demographics of the county, which is 75 percent white. But the pool of black MPs is heavily tilted toward employment in prison and the courts. Patrol officers, who interact the most with residents about tickets and arrests, are 84 percent white.

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As the Time noted, some Tampa Bay agencies bristle with comparisons between police force demographics and residential data. They also report a number of programs they have put in place to stimulate the recruitment and retention of minorities. The Tampa Police Department is offering scholarships to some applicants to help offset the $ 8,000 cost to attend the police academy, and Acting Chief Ruben Delgado said the department is taking additional steps, including creating an additional recruiting post. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri attributes this lack of diversity at the highest levels to a five-year hiring freeze during the Great Recession. Between 2012 and 2021, the number of minority MPs on the patrol side increased by 4 percentage points. “We are making progress,” said Gualtieri, “but there is room to do more.”

The disparities may have lasted for decades, but cities and counties have a strong interest in building a diverse justice system. Police, prosecutors and judges need to understand the life experiences of people in their communities. Agencies looking for a more representative workforce should continue to focus on recruiting, hiring, training and promotion. Leaders should also build relationships through youth, civic and other programs to foster stronger relationships. If the data shows anything, it’s that the disparity gap won’t close without clear goals, hard work and sustained commitment.

“To be an effective law enforcement agency in the 21st century, it is essential that you have a workforce that reflects the community you serve,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister . “When you look across the country and you see a lot of the problems agencies are having, it’s because they don’t have the diversity. “

Editorials are the corporate voice of the Tampa Bay Times. Members of the Editorial Board are Editorial Board Editor Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chief Executive Officer Paul Tash. To follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.