Sun Sentinel Editorial
February 23, 2019
The Legislature should not make it harder for the public to know the details of mass killings and how law enforcement responded – or didn’t.
In less than three years, Florida has seen the second-deadliest mass shooting – Pulse nightclub – and the second-deadliest school shooting – Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. One gunman killed five at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Another killed five at a Sebring bank.
Yet Senate Bill 186 would create an exemption to the state’s public records law for all photographs and audio and video recordings that relate to the “killing of a victim of mass violence.” The bill defines mass violence as the killing of at least three people, not including the perpetrator. Violation would be a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
In a letter to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen noted how broad the impact could be. The exemption could cover “all acts or events that cause or otherwise relate to (emphasis ours)” mass killings.
Does that include exterior building shots, like those the South Florida Sun Sentinel fought to obtain after the Stoneman Douglas shooting? The videos showed just how badly the Broward Sheriff’s Office mismanaged its response to the shooting, even as former Sheriff Scott Israel praised its performance.
Does that include old photos or videos of a shooter playing with guns or practicing at a shooting range, like those taken by the Parkland shooter and other killers? It’s anybody’s guess how broadly a police agency or court could interpret such language.
“We cannot depend on government to police itself,” Petersen says. “They’re not going to report to us that their deputies hid behind cars, or that they didn’t follow policy, or that they arrived at the scene without their vest on. This is the only objective evidence we have to assure ourselves that law enforcement is doing what law enforcement is supposed to be doing.”