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Names of police who use deadly force could be shielded under proposed law

The Florida Supreme Court last year ruled that police and crime victims couldn’t have their names withheld under Marsy’s Law.
 
A proposed bill would allow Florida police officers, prison guards and probation officers to shield their names from the public if they use deadly force while on duty.
A proposed bill would allow Florida police officers, prison guards and probation officers to shield their names from the public if they use deadly force while on duty. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Jan. 16|Updated Jan. 17

Florida police officers, prison guards and probation officers who kill someone in the line of duty could have their names shielded from the public under proposed legislation.

In November, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that victims of crimes couldn’t have their names withheld under Marsy’s Law, the 2018 amendment adopted by 62% of Florida voters that grants more rights to crime victims. The case stemmed from two incidents in 2020, when Tallahassee officers fatally shot suspects but sought to have their names redacted, saying they were victims because they were assaulted by the people they shot.

The conservative Supreme Court ruled more broadly and said the law prevents a victim’s information from being withheld only if it can be used to “locate” them. It ruled that providing someone’s name alone didn’t do that. However, the court added that the Legislature could expand public record exemptions if it chose.

Rep. Chuck Brannan, R-Macclenny, filed HB 1605 and HB 1607, which would shield the names of officers who use deadly force from disclosure. It would also require that crime victims more broadly have their names exempted from public records, like many law enforcement agencies practiced before the Florida Supreme Court ruling. The bills do not have Senate companions yet.

John Kazanjian, the president of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, said officers should have their information withheld because they are people, too.

“For people to exclude police officers just because we wear the badge and we protect and serve, that’s not fair to us,” he said.

Not all law enforcement officers, though, believe in redacting the names of officers who use deadly force. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has said he believes withholding the names of officers under Marsy’s Law was an overreach and can breed suspicion among the public.

The group Marsy’s Law for Florida also opposed using the law to protect the names of law enforcement officers who use deadly force, but expressed disappointment that the Supreme Court’s ruling meant crime victims generally could no longer keep their names out of public records.