April 8, 2014. News-press.com.
Local and state law officials on Monday agreed in principle to support a Southwest Florida religious coalition’s demand for an alternative to charging first-time juvenile offenders with misdemeanors.
Lee Interfaith for Empowerment, made up of 11 Lee County churches and religious organizations, demanded that officials increase and expand their use of state-approved civil citations in dealing with eligible juveniles, at their third annual “Nehemiah Action” on Monday at the Harborside Event Center in downtown Fort Myers.
The rationale: help at-risk children and save taxpayers money.
Officials from the 20th Circuit State Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Probation Office, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and the Fort Myers Police Department took the stage while religious leaders made their “asks” concerning civil citations before the audience.
Deputies and police are allowed by state law to use civil citations in non-firearm, non-sex-crime and non-gang offenses and avoid a juvenile offender from having a criminal record, according to the juvenile justice department.
LIFE Vice President William Glover said even though the Lee County Sheriff’s Office reports only using civil citations in 18 percent of allowable cases, they work 99 percent of the time. “If it’s 99 percent effective, why not use it 100 percent of the time?” said Glover, pastor of Mount Hermon Ministries.
LIFE wants law enforcement agencies to use civil citations 80 percent of the time, Glover said.
While Fort Myers police Sgt. Roger Valdivia, representing Chief Doug Baker, agreed in principle to expand the program, he said he could not commit to a specific target. The pastors agreed to continue to negotiate with Baker on setting specific goals.
However, LIFE is pushing for unqualified support from all Lee County law enforcement agencies. Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott sent a letter, expressing his support for the civil citation program, but Glover said he could not speak for the sheriff on whether he shared LIFE’s goals. Neither Cape Coral Police Department nor the Sanibel Police Department participated.