‘Lives are being ruined’: Police program to issue civil citations instead of arrest not being used enough, advocates say

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. – Carl Leith said he was arrested unnecessarily after a traffic stop in Parkland.

A month before the stop, someone had rear-ended his car and his tail light broke. Leith said the other driver didn’t have insurance, and he just forgot about it.

“I said to her, ‘Ma’am, why did you pull me over? I’m not speeding.’ She says, ‘License and registration,’ I said, ‘For what? I’m not speeding,’” Leith said about what preceded the arrest.

After more back and forth, Leith was arrested for resisting or obstructing without violence in 2021. It turns out the arrest was unnecessary. In 2018, Broward County passed an ordinance giving law enforcement the option to issue civil citations for non-violent misdemeanors.

“The police in Broward, I think they can do a whole lot better,” Leith said about an arrest record that advocates said could have been avoided.

Rev. Noel Rose is the co-president of Broward Organized Leaders Doing Justice, a Fort Lauderdale-based nonpartisan coalition of 22 religious congregations also known as BOLD Justice.

“When we factor in for every time we’re not using this program, there’s someone whose life is going to be upended with an unnecessary arrest,” Rose said.

Rose said records show that in the last 12 months, only 62 adults out of thousands who were arrested for misdemeanor offenses were issued a civil citation in Broward County.

“It is downright unacceptable,” Rose said. “It’s terrible because lives are being ruined because we aren’t using this program that’s available in the county.”

Rose and other BOLD Justice representatives met with State Attorney Harold Pryor on Tuesday to ask him to encourage Broward County’s law enforcement agencies to start using this pre-arrest diversion more often.

“We want to be tough on crime with dangerous criminals, but criminalizing minor offenders is not smart on crime,” said Rev. Brian Anthony Campbell, a BOLD Justice co-president, adding, “We are not saying that there shouldn’t be consequences for these minor offenses, but anytime you get arrested, or even if you a notice to appear and are told to show up at court later, that creates a life-long arrest record that keeps people from getting housing and jobs later in life.”

Instead of being arrested, people in the civil citation pre-arrest diversion program have to do service hours, pay a fee, and go through screenings to see if they need mental health, restorative justice, or educational services.

“Too many people in our community are being branded for life with criminal records for minor, non-violent offenses,” Campbell said adding, “These are not dangerous people who are getting arrested.”

After the meeting, Pryor agreed to continue encouraging law enforcement agencies in Broward County to use the program more often.

About the Author:

Ian Margol joined the Local 10 News team in July 2016 as a general assignment reporter. Born in Miami Beach and raised in Broward County, Ian is thrilled to be back home in South Florida.