Yesterday I posted a video showing a group of Polk County detention officers refusing to identify themselves when asked by Michael Burns, who was being harassed and threatened with arrest for video recording from a public sidewalk outside the jail in Central Florida.
When Burns told them it was a departmental policy, they blew him off, demanding to know what policy requires them to disclose their names when asked.
It was obviously a tactic to force the burden of proof on Burns, even though it is quite common for law enforcement organizations to have such policies.
But thanks to a public records request by Jeff Frazier of Seminole Watch, we now have that policy.
It is General Order 26.1 (10) (f), which also states violating that policy can result in an 8-hour suspension. The entire general order is here for your reading pleasure.
Frazier’s inquiries also prompted an investigation on the officers, which means the department cannot release their names due to the FSS 112, commonly known as the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights, which basically states that cops have more rights than the rest of us.
After all, our names become public record once we are under investigation.
But Frazier also obtained the duty roster from that night, so now we have the names of all the detention officers working that night, which includes two sergeants, one who must have been the one doing the talking that night as Burns identified him as a sergeant.
The detention officer named Lacey who identified himself in the beginning was probably entering his shift at 6 a.m., which is why his name did not show up here.
This is what Frazier had to say:
“It is because of the courage of individuals who understand the meaning of the status of a ‘public servant’ and who boldly risk life and liberty that all of us have freedom,” Frazier said.
“Our public records laws are designed to ensure that the truth is exposed to the light. And that there is a check and balance for those public servants who dishonor their oath of office.”
There is also the issue that perhaps these same detention officers lied about Burns trespassing onto jail property when they contacted Bartow police to harass him, but we still need to determine whether or not the Bartow cop was lying about receiving that report.
The lesson here is that although law enforcement officers will insist on demanding to see our identifications, even when we are under no legal grounds to provide it, they have a professional obligation to provide their names.
But we know they really don’t like doing that, so we can use public records laws to remind them that they can’t simply make up the rules as they go along as so many of them like to do.
Which brings us too ….
I’ve been extremely busy these last two weeks with several other obligatory (and paid) projects as well as having to deal with a hard drive that crashed, forcing me to reinstall everything, which is why posting has been sporadic.
But there has been a lot of planning behind the scenes as to what we can expect within the next year, including the introduction of a few more writers, which you will begin to see over the next few weeks. Also, Andrew Meyer is busy preparing for bar exam, so he is not writing as much as he eventually will, but he is still part of PINAC.
We will also begin redesigning the site in the next few months, which will take place in stages, to accommodate the new writers and create more ad space, which hopefully increase revenue to pay the writers.
I also want to create a nationwide database of state-by-state public records laws, which is where I will need your help.
Right now, the idea is to create a section in the forums where readers can provide statutes, case law and personal experiences about the public records laws from their own states. From there, I will hire somebody to put it all into a comprehensible database.
As you can see in this story, this can be an extremely valuable tool to use to keep government transparent and hold police accountable. It would be great to have the general orders and policies of every law enforcement agency in the country posted so we can understand exactly what policy they must be following as well as any other relevant information.
Also, Joel Chandler, who we announced last year had become a partner in PINAC, has accepted a position as executive director of the Citizen’s Awareness Foundation, which means he cannot officially be part of PINAC.
However, the foundation’s goal is to educate citizens in Florida about their rights, so he will be helping us out from time to time.
And Jeff Gray will continue working with PINAC as a contributor but the partnership we announced last year is no longer in existence because we didn’t have the funding to accomplish all our goals at this time.
So the bottom line is, there is a huge potential to turn PINAC into a full-fledged news site with multiple writers and a steady stream of content along with an extensive database of public records laws from every state, but I need everybody’s help in getting there because the money is not there yet.
But everybody has their own obligations that take priority, which is understandable considering everybody has bills to pay and families to feed, but many times that leaves me the sole person trying to accomplish everything, which can be very overwhelming because this site is growing rapidly and there are many more demands compared to before.
However, a lot of people are asking how they can contribute, so the first step is in learning the public records laws in your own state, but it goes beyond just learning the statutes.
It requires studying case law and making requests yourself, then informing the rest of us how you did it, which is why I hope to build those state-by-state forums soon where you can post as much as you need on the topic.
And if you get it all on camera, even better.
If you want to email me now with that info because it will take a few months until we set up the forums, please use “State Public Record Laws” as your subject to I can keep track and repost them once we have the forums.