Florida police are now withholding crime victim information

Posted at 8:41 AM, Jan 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-22 09:23:59-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Some law enforcement agencies in Florida have begun withholding information about crime victims — including the names of people killed — due to their interpretation of a measure passed by voters last fall.

Florida voters signed off on Amendment 6, a sweeping proposal that broadened the rights of crime victims and increased the mandatory retirement age for judges. The main part of the amendment is known as Marsy's Law and similar laws have been passed by many states around the country.

Since the amendment took effect on Jan. 8 some police agencies around the state have stopped releasing basic information about crime victims.

Police in in the state capital of Tallahassee, for example, provided sparse details about the victim of an apparent traffic crash in which a body was found in the middle of a neighborhood roundabout. Tampa authorities declined to provide information about two people found shot dead in a car near the Busch Gardens theme park.

In both instances, police cited a provision in the amendment to protect the victim's right "to prevent the disclosure of information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim's family or which could disclose confidential or privileged information of the victim."

The Tampa Bay Times reported that open government advocates say this interpretation conflicts with existing public records law.

"I understand their dilemma and I understand there's not a lot of clarity right now," Barbara Petersen, president of the Tallahassee-based First Amendment Foundation told the newspaper. "But they cannot willfully deny access to a request for public records unless there is specific constitutional or statutory authority, and this amendment does not provide that authority."

One of the key questions about the amendment whether the right to have information withheld is automatic or if victims have to request the protection.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported that the two main law-enforcement agencies in the state capital are responding differently to that question.

"It's a very broad protection that's been granted to victims and their families, and we're trying to make sure we honor the spirit of what people voted for," Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo told the newspaper.

State legislators have been asked to pass a law that clears up the confusion over the amendment.