July 19, 2020
Given the protests and calls for police accountability that have engulfed America, the last thing the criminal and judicial system needs is less transparency.
But that’s what’s been playing out in a Tallahassee courtroom, where the city’s police department is trying to shield the identity of two officers involved in recent shootings.
For now, they are known as “John Doe 1” and “John Doe 2.” They might remain that way thanks to Marsy’s Law, which should be renamed “The Law of Unintended Consequences.”
It was designed to protect the rights of crime victims. That sounded good to 62% of Florida voters, who passed it as a constitutional amendment in 2018.
It hasn’t turned so good for open government, and the state Legislature needs to clarify the law the next chance it gets.
What cries out for clarity is a provision that promises privacy to crime victims. That has warped into a catch-all for law enforcement to withhold information from the public and further erode Florida’s open-government laws. Among the excesses:
- Jacksonville police stopped reporting where some crimes were committed. Tallahassee police release only general information about murders and other serious crimes with scant details. Such information is often crucial in generating tips that might actually solve the crime.
- A Sarasota woman was charged with child abuse, but authorities refused to name the daycare center where she worked.
- Tampa police refused to identify a pedestrian killed by a motorists even after dozens of people gathered to publicly eulogize him at the scene of the accident.
- After a man broke into a woman’s house and attacked a sleeping woman, Fort Myers police refused to reveal key details or release a sketch of the suspect.