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A Times Editorial

Florida needs a better system for vetting warrants

There is no telling whether Tampa police Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis would be alive today had Jacksonville authorities removed an errant arrest warrant the pair were enforcing on Dontae Morris, who is charged with shooting and killing them on June 29. Yet there is also no denying that the mix-up factored into this tragedy. If the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office could have better managed its paperwork, every law enforcement agency in the state needs to learn how so that officers in the future are not kept in the dark. That is why it is appropriate for the Tampa Police Department to investigate what went wrong.

Tampa police's legal adviser said he would investigate why the warrant for Morris' arrest remained active even after Duval County authorities determined it was a case of mistaken identity. Tampa police say Morris was a passenger in a car Curtis stopped for a traffic violation. Curtis saw Morris was wanted on a bad check charge, and Kocab arrived as backup. Police say Morris shot the officers as they attempted to arrest him.

The purpose here is not to point fingers. Morris has been indicted on first-degree murder charges. But authorities across the state could learn from any procedure that might save an officer's life down the road.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said its clerk followed proper procedure by finding that the bad check warrant was issued in error. (The bad checks were written while Morris was in prison.) So why was the warrant not removed? The Duval County State Attorney's Office said it has been swamped with vetting bad check warrants. There should be a better explanation of what happened here than something fell through the cracks.

Law enforcement agencies have a long tradition of coming together when an officer is lost anywhere. That is the spirit in which Tampa and Jacksonville authorities should work to understand what happened. The various jurisdictions in Florida clearly need a better system for vetting warrants, removing the bad ones and communicating these orders among the various police agencies. The police face enough risks without adding to them because of backed-up paperwork.

Florida needs a better system for vetting warrants 07/23/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 23, 2010 6:33pm]
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