Saturday, April 21, 2018
Editorials

When police investigations cross the line

When a Pinellas County sheriff's detective dressed up as a Progress Energy worker as a "ruse" to get a homeowner he suspected of growing marijuana to open his door, the detective should have known it was wrong. And when Pinellas deputies tried to find home-based marijuana operations by putting a camera outside a hydroponics store and investigating customers, red flags should have gone up. Both incidents occurred because some in the sheriff's office don't seem to understand when a novel investigative technique crosses into a violation of the public trust.

It doesn't take a constitutional scholar to understand what is wrong with a detective dressing as a civilian utility worker to trick a homeowner into opening the door. If the deputy ends up seeing or smelling marijuana, there is a good chance that any resulting arrest would be irreparably tainted by the questionable way the evidence was obtained. As Sheriff Bob Gualtieri notes, the evidence probably wouldn't survive a constitutional challenge. "And shouldn't," he says.

Gualtieri says he only found out about the incident when Tampa Bay Times staff writer Curtis Krueger called him about the deposition of Detective Paul Giovannoni, who pretended to be the Progress Energy worker. Gualtieri says it was a one-time deception that occurred in May 2010, well before he was appointed as sheriff last year to fill an unexpired term. Apparently there weren't more occurrences because Progress Energy found out that a company shirt and hat had been misused and demanded the clothes back.

When law enforcement uses the tactic of impersonating a corporate worker, it jeopardizes that business' relationship with its customers. And you can imagine the reaction from law enforcement when someone puts on a uniform and pretends to be a police officer — that's illegal. In the Giovannoni case, the homeowner ushered the fake utility worker to his electricity meter to complain about service, with the deputy caught in his own ruse. But that homeowner was denied the right to decide whether to open his door to a sheriff's deputy or invite him onto the property. He didn't know he was dealing with one.

Reassuringly, Gualtieri has not put up a defensive shield. He acknowledges that the dress-up tactic was wrong, just as he ended the camera surveillance on the Simply Hydroponics shop in Largo once he became aware of it. He says these operations don't reflect his priorities: the abuse of prescription drugs, cocaine and other drugs where public safety is at greater risk.

Gualtieri has implemented a new policy that bars deputies from wearing a corporate uniform without the express written permission of the corporation. New personnel and policies also are in place. Giovannoni's supervisor has been reassigned to patrol, and the captain in charge has retired. The sheriff has referred nine people in the narcotics unit to internal affairs for a variety of personnel issues. And Gualtieri has ordered mandatory legal training for the narcotics unit and any other deputy who deals with issues that touch on constitutional rights.

Gualtieri seems to understand the proper balance between aggressive police work and resorting to illegal or unethical tactics, but his responsibility is to inculcate that understanding in everyone else. It isn't at all clear that everyone under his command knows the difference.

Comments
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18