Thursday, January 18, 2018
Opinion

Tampa's legal community puts aside differences for cause of ending violence

There's something happening in Hillsborough County that may be, ought to be, recognized for what it is: People who are usually gunning for each other on opposite sides of a courtroom are pulling together in ways that might just make a difference for the future of everybody's children.

One example was a recent Saturday morning, with an event called the Safe & Sound Hillsborough Summit.

"Our communities and our nation are divided. Bias and stigma plague our communities. Fear and anger drive decisions. Before we move on, healing must occur. In your opinion, how does that process begin?"

This was one of the kick-off questions at the June 3 summit, which brought dozens of children and their families to the University Mall for a day-long event designed to head off the kind of violence and divisiveness that has often fueled tragedy in American communities.

Sponsors of the event gave out prizes to kids who took the best "selfie" with one of the dozens of police officers and sheriff's deputies who showed up specifically for them to pal around with. What an idea: Instead of confronting each other in what might be a not-so-friendly meeting on the street, let's get as many kids from as many neighborhoods and have lunch together and take some pictures with the cops!

The summit makes no bones about its purpose, calling the event a violence prevention conference. The organizers viewed it as a "collaborative," and when you look at the names on the marquee, you'll see it is. They've managed to pull in folks from opposite sides of the courtroom and, really, from all over town.

The chairwoman was Julianne Holt, the Hillsborough County public defender. The vice chairman was Kenneth Albano, police chief for the city of Temple Terrace. Found on the collaborative "leadership council" are Andrew Warren, Hillsborough County state attorney; Tampa police Maj. Keith O'Connor; Hillsborough sheriff's Col. James Burton; Kelley Parris, executive director of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County; Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller; Bill McDaniel, assistant city manager for Plant City; Hillsborough County School Board Cindy Stuart; and Hillsborough Court Administrator Gina Justice.

"Working together you have a chance to head off the violent and tragic things you see happening all over the country that keep you up at night," Ms. Holt said. "We have very different roles in court, but on this we are together."

So if law enforcement officers and lawyers on both sides of the courtroom and judges can get together to prevent, defuse and minimize violence, are there challenges that might be addressed with their cooperation?

One other recent effort was the Hillsborough County Homeless Outreach held Tuesday at American Legion Post 111, 6918 N Florida Ave. At this event, booths were set up to collect first aid items for distribution to the homeless, as well as food, clothes, flu shots, blankets, even haircuts.

The Public Defender's Office had a booth at the event, which was put on by guess who? The Tampa Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Tampa Officer Randi Whitney and sheriff's Deputy Stephanie Kramer already put on a large outreach quarterly and smaller outreach monthly.

Another example of cooperation across the courtroom is an effort involving mental health.

On May 30, Hillsborough Chief Judge Ron Ficarrotta, signed an administrative order that puts into place something he's been talking about for a long time. It's called Mental Health Criminal Division "M," and without getting bogged down in too much legalese, it is where individuals who have mental health issues that have gotten them in trouble can be treated more like mentally ill people than criminals.

According to this order, eligible defendants can enter into a pre-trial diversion program that will allow them to get treatment for their mental problem instead of going to jail.

Ask the people at the jail and they will likely, in unison, shout, "Yeah!" Because the jail is not a good place for mentally ill people to spend a lot of time. Not good for them, not good for the people in charge of the jail.

Joseph J. Registrato is an assistant public defender in Hillsborough County.

Comments
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18