Tampa Bay Times by Tony Marrero
April 22, 2021
TAMPA — A Florida court ruling allowing officers to keep their names secret from the public is reverberating across state law enforcement agencies and sparking calls for the Legislature to act.
The recent appellate court decision comes as a succession of deadly police encounters nationwide fuels calls for greater transparency. Critics of the ruling include some local law enforcement leaders, who say it takes Florida in the wrong direction and shields officers from scrutiny.
Withholding officers’ names creates a sweeping new exemption in Florida’s public records laws and prevents the public and media watchdogs from looking for troubling patterns in the personnel files of police who use force on the job, said Pamela Marsh, president of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation. This includes incidents like those found in the files of Derek Chauvin — the former Minneapolis police officer convicted this week for the murder of George Floyd.
Floyd’s death happened in broad daylight, with officer body cameras rolling and witnesses recording on mobile phones. The public should worry about interactions not so well-documented, Marsh said.
“I think if a similar situation happened in Florida right now, if there had been no one on the street with a camera, if it had happened in the dark and no one had filmed it, we wouldn’t know the officer’s identity at all,” Marsh said.
The unanimous ruling this month by the First District Court of Appeals extended the reach of Amendment 6, better known as Marsy’s Law. The amendment was approved by Florida voters in 2018 with the intent to protect the identity of crime victims, among other rights.