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To avoid future tragedies, Florida must take public safety seriously

I don't want to live in a community where cops are shot.

Don't tell me it happens in every city or it's inevitable or it's the world we live in.

Refuse to accept that reality. Reject that inevitability, because once we accept such a reprehensible and barbaric crime as the norm, we no longer live in a desirable community.

If this is the world we live in, let's change the world.

The anger and sadness we share over the shooting deaths of Tampa police officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab should prompt us to ask how we can make it better.

Maybe we can't create a society without police shootings, but shouldn't we strive for that?

If deputies and officers work to keep us safe, can't we work to keep them safe?

Where do we start? There are so many different aspects of public safety — law enforcement, intervention programs, corrections —that deserve attention, but the state's funding of the court system is as good a place as any.

Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober makes a compelling case for more funding for his office and all of Florida's state attorneys.

Most prosecutors are burdened with student loans, but their pay starts at $40,000. Staff workers haven't gotten a raise in five years.

Of the 361 positions in Ober's office, 62 are vacant. The attorneys who handle misdemeanors have a case load ranging from 500 to 1,000. Felony prosecutors juggle 200 to 500 cases.

Yet this year, the legislature voted to have prosecutors across the state pay their own state bar fees. Really.

The state attorneys' association is suing the secretary of state to reverse the nickle-and-dime move that serves only to threaten morale.

Bar fees are $265 a year, but covering the costs is one of the few perks that state attorneys have to recruit and retain lawyers.

Of course, every state legislator or candidate insists they're tough on crime, but they're really just being tough on the people who make the system function.

"It's been an uphill battle for state attorneys across the state," Ober said Thursday. "I'm proud of the way we've run the ship with inadequate funding, but it's a shame."

Really, we need the entire judicial system to be better funded, including the public defender's office. We want to convict the guilty and we want everyone to be tried fairly.

"If we don't have good public defenders, we're just going to end up doing trials over," said Mark Cox, Ober's chief of investigations.

Ober and his executive director, Dick Donahoe, understand Florida's financial challenges, but note that the state attorneys' entire appropriation is less than 1 percent of the state's $70 billion budget for 2010.

"It's not the money, it's the priorities," Donahoe said. "If they set the right priority, they'll find the money to do it.

"Some people say government has no greater role than to finance public safety and protect citizens. It's amazing how hard it is to get anything out of the legislature."

If there's a chance that more funding will prevent two wives from becoming widows and four children growing up without their fathers, we invest and pray for the best.

We do all that we can because every time a depraved individual takes the life of one of our finest, it rips a hole in our community so painful we can't accept inaction.

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To avoid future tragedies, Florida must take public safety seriously 07/01/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 2, 2010 7:52am]

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