Thank you for your interest in helping to protect basic constitutional rights of homeless people within the City of Miami. These rights are protected by the Pottinger consent decree.
The Pottinger consent decree was approved by the federal district court in Miami in 1998, and modified somewhat in 2014. It resulted from a lawsuit brought in 1988 by the Greater Miami Chapter of the ACLU.
The Pottinger consent decree puts limits on police power to arrest homeless individuals for certain minor offenses, and protects homeless people’s property from being arbitrarily seized. It has been hailed as “the gold standard” in civil rights litigation to protect the constitutional rights of homeless persons. (More background, including the Pottinger decision and the consent decree, here.)
With the assistance of the Wilson Mejia and Victoria Gonzalez, our Pottinger Fellows (who work with Professor Scotney Evans’ Engagement, Power, and Social Action Research Team [EPSA]), Professor Stephen Schnably is seeking volunteers to assist a team of ACLU cooperating attorneys in monitoring the City of Miami’s compliance with the Pottinger rules. There is also an externship opportunity for law students.
How can I get involved?
There are volunteer opportunities -- for law students, undergraduates, and other students. There is also an externship opportunity (for law students only) in some semesters.
- Volunteer Opportunities: Law Students and Undergraduate or Other Students
You can volunteer for either or both of the following projects. To indicate your interest in volunteering (or if you have questions), please email Pottinger fellows Wilson Mejia and Victoria Gonzalez (Emails: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org). Please indicate which project you are interested in.
- Help us create the database we need (Database Volunteer).
Even if you have only limited time, you can still make a big difference! You can help us input a month’s worth of police reports into our compliance database (or more, if you have time).
To help make sure the protections of the Pottinger consent decree are actually enforced, police officers are required to document every encounter they have with a homeless person. These “Field Information Cards” provide basic information about the name of the individual, whether he or she was arrested, and if so, what for. We also have the arrest records of many homeless persons who have been arrested in the City of Miami.
These records are vital to enforcement of the decree, but unless they are in a database they are of limited usefulness. Entering them into the database is simple -- if you volunteer, you will be assigned a month’s worth of FICs and be given a spreadsheet along with a clear, step-by-step Manual that explains how to do it.
If you want to take a look at the Manual, click here. You will need to put the following password in to see it: ficvolunteer
- Why do it?
- You’ll learn something about the law. You’ll see police records in detail and get a glimpse of how a constitutional law ruling works on an everyday basis.
- You can do it from anywhere. You don’t have to be in Miami. Everything you need can be provided remotely through Dropbox or the University’s Box system (the FICs in pdf, and the spreadsheets in Excel). While the Manual is comprehensive, Professor Schnably or a volunteer law student coordinator will be available to answer questions that may come up as you do it. (You should know, though, that as a practical matter you will need to print out the FICs to look at as you input the information into the spreadsheet. If you can come in to campus, we can supply you with a printout of the FICs for your month; the FICs for a given month may run anywhere from 100 to 500 pages or so. If you are working entirely remotely, you’ll need to print them out yourself.)
- Note: you do not have to be an expert at spreadsheets to enter the data. No formulas are involved.
- It’s not a big commitment of your time. How many FICs there are in a month varies, but it should typically take something like 5-7 hours to complete entry of a month into the database. So 5-7 hours, and then you’re done! (Unless of course you want to do more months--there’s no limit.) And you’ll be making a real difference.
- Help us monitor compliance with the consent decree (Compliance Volunteer).
Note: To be eligible to serve as a Compliance Volunteer, you must first have served as a Database Volunteer.
The ACLU team also needs volunteers to help analyze the database and associated records to determine instances in which the consent decree may have been violated. This work involves tasks such as:
- Analyzing individual FICs by checking to see whether the interaction between the police officer and the homeless person conformed with the Consent Decree.
- Comparing arrest records to legal rules set out in the consent decree
- Looking up arrest records through the Miami-Dade County Criminal Justice Online System [we have most of the arrest records but are missing some]
- Why do it?
- You’ll learn more about the law. This is a great opportunity to get an in-depth sense of how a constitutional law ruling works on an everyday basis. You’ll work with portions of the actual consent decree and other legal records.
- Flexible hours. While some of these projects may require some meetings with Professor Schnably, you can do much of it at home from your own computer.
- Externship with Miami Homes for All: Law Students
For information on the availability of an externship in any given semester, please contact the CDO
There is no externship the Spring 2018 semester. The next externship may be in the Fall 2018 or Spring 2019 semester.
In some semesters there is an externship available with Miami Homes for All, an advocacy and policy group that focuses on the issues of homelessness and affordable housing in Miami. Law student interns have the opportunity to develop legal skills, including client interviewing, drafting legal memos and documents, and compliance-related fact-finding, through work focusing on monitoring the City’s compliance with the Pottinger consent decree. Interns work primarily under the supervision of an MHA attorney, and also assist the ACLU attorneys, including Professor Schnably. The interns may interview homeless persons about their interactions with City police; monitor mass police sweeps when possible; write up affidavits and complaints of violations of the consent decree; draft public records requests; and assist with other litigation-related matters. As capacity allows, interns may also assist the Policy & Program Director on other homelessness and housing advocacy.