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Opinion
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Guest Column
Scrubbing addresses from 911 logs hurts Tampa residents’ ability to gauge crime | Column
Marsy’s Law is no excuse to keep important crime information from the public.
A 911 call center, this one in Pinellas County.
A 911 call center, this one in Pinellas County.
Published Jan. 22

Last week before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, the Tampa police announced they were removing addresses from the 911 call log. This means the public is no longer able to know the block level location of burglaries, robberies, thefts and other reported crimes.

Historically, Tampa had been the one of the most transparent cities in the United States related to this 911 call data. The information was digitally available to the public for more than 15 years. The police department is now claiming that this public information violates the poorly written Marsy’s Law — a voter-approved amendment to the state Constitution that was meant to protect crime victims but that denies the public information long available under Florida’s public records laws.

Removing data from public view does not uphold transparent and accountable policing. Rather than be accountable for the fact that violent crime is increasing nationwide, Tampa has elected to just hide the data from the public. Citizens will no longer be able to see if there is a string of burglaries in their neighborhood. If there is a predator enticing children in your neighborhood, you are now no longer permitted to know the location.

How did a law intended to help victims end up creating more victims? It surely was not the intent for Marsy’s Law to reduce public trust in law enforcement. The Marsy’s Law organization has stated that “There are no provisions in Marsy’s Law for Florida that prevent the release of details of a case, including general information on where crimes have taken place.” But when any agency removes two-way communication with the community, they reduce trust and ultimately reduce public safety. Hiding crime activity only helps the criminals who now can operate in darkness and it reduces accountability for the leaders responsible for enforcing the law.

The public wants to trust law enforcement. We want to know how hard they are working. And, we want to know what the criminals are doing in our neighborhoods so the law-abiding citizens can contribute to everyone’s safety. Abusing the interpretation of Marsy’s Law in this manner means that we all are considered victims or victimizers. It is unclear what the actual motivation for removing transparency from the public is, but it raises a question: Do the Tampa police no longer trust the public with the public crime information they have provided without incident for over 15 years?

Colin Drane, the founder of SpotCrime, runs a Baltimore-based nationwide independent crime mapping company that has been mapping Tampa public crime data since 2008.

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