Tallahassee, FL – On December 1, Tallahassee’s Civilian Police Review Board (CPRB) held its monthly meeting. A major topic of concern was the recent attack of one of the board’s members, Taylor Biro.
During the October 12 city commission meeting, Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox, who was endorsed by and received donations from the Police Benevolent Association, brought up the issue of alleged bias against law enforcement by members of the CPRB. She stated that she heard a member attended a meeting with a cup bearing the phrase “Fuck the police.”
After this, on November 16, the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) released a statement demanding Biro’s removal from the board, citing the “vitriolic anti-police message” on her cup. Both of these statements are problematic, as they are based on a lie. The sticker in question, which has been on the same drinking cup she’s brought to every meeting since the inception of the board, actually reads “Abolish police brutality,” a statement about behavior, not officers themselves.
At the December 1 CPRB meeting, more than ten members of the community came to the meeting to provide their support of Biro, many pointing out the importance of having diverse viewpoints on the board, the need for the board to be critical of the actions of Tallahassee Police Department (TPD), and that the PBA should have no say over the makeup of the city’s governing bodies.
Satya Stark-Bejnar, a member of the Tallahassee Community Action Committee (TCAC) laid out Biro’s qualifications to serve on the CPRB: “Taylor has been responsible for training hundreds of officers on trauma-informed policing, co-authored a part of a statewide law requiring officers to be trauma-informed and culturally responsive, and wrote the curriculum the Florida Department of Law Enforcement uses on trauma related to sexual violence.”
Members of the board also spoke in support of Biro, with Chairman Edward Gaines releasing a personal statement that read, “I’d like to say that I completely disagree with that request and will continue to support Ms. Biro’s important role on the Board,” and “I consider this matter now closed and a non-issue.” Malik Gary, who is a member of the review board as well as leader of the local Dream Defenders squad, expressed his dissatisfaction with the PBA’s interference in this matter by stating, “People outside of the community should stay out of the community’s business.”
It was also noted by boardmember Patrick O’Bryant that, despite their calls for Biro’s immediate removal, no one from the Police Benevolent Association deemed it important enough to show up to the meeting, saying, “It’s pretty cowardly of them to make this charge and then not show up.” In the event of Biro’s removal, Chairman Gaines suggested that members boycott further CPRB meetings or a mass resignation may be the appropriate response.
One speaker, Will Crowley, said, “It’s not enough for Tallahassee Police Department to take the lion’s share of our annual budget every year, it’s not enough for them to have virtually unlimited personal prerogative to commit violence without question, it’s not enough for them to have blocked any significant oversight committee with teeth. It seems that none of those things are enough. What they must have is control over our hearts and minds.”
Regina Joseph, a member of the Tallahassee Community Action Committee, speaking about what a waste of time this was, stated, “it’s wild that the city commission doesn’t have time to read the annual report the CPRB gave them, but they’ve got time to try and get rid of Taylor.” Delilah Pierre, president of TCAC, pointed out that the rest of the board is also under threat, “If y’all don’t use your power to support Taylor in whatever way you can, do know that anytime you have a different or controversial opinion, anytime what you say doesn’t toe the police line, you’ll be removed too.”
After hearing public comment and having a lengthy discussion amongst themselves, the review board voted unanimously to draft letters to be released to the public and the city commission. During discussion of a press release, City Attorney Cassandra Jackson interjected to say that the board should tread lightly, as making press releases was not in the board’s “operating policies and procedures.” She then went on to list the enumerated policies, which mostly included things they were expressly not allowed to do rather than a list of things they are allowed to do. Jackson later suggested that the board should instead use its annual report as a way of communicating with the commission – the same annual report that the commission read ten months after its submission.
It seems that Tampa Police Department, the Police Benevolent Association, and several of Tallahassee’s city commissioners are hostile toward the Civilian Police Review Board. As Crowley pointed out, those entities have taken notice of the board’s push for autonomy, so are doing what they can to remove anyone they see as a threat. The community showed up and showed out, making it clear that they stand in opposition to the PBA and Williams-Cox’s attempts to hamstring the CPRB by removing Taylor Biro.