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Florida cops no longer shielded from public shaming

Forget Consumer Reports — the Internet bypasses professional reviewers.and lets regular people share their experiences with everything from cars to hotels to police officers. But not everybody likes to have bad reviews of their performance available to the public. In Florida, cops got their pet politicians to pass a law making it legally perilous to get too specific when giving thumbs-down to uniformed arm-twisters. That law is now a thing of the past, tossed out as a First amendment violation by a federal judge.

In 2008, after an unpleasant encounter with the police during his performance of his job as a property manager, Robert Brayshaw posted a negative review of Tallahassee Police Officer Annette Garrett on Ratemycop.com, along with identifying personal details, including her residential address.

Even though the posted information was all gleaned from public sources, Brayshaw ran afoul of a state law criminalizing the publication of a police officer’s address and phone number.

Any person who shall maliciously, with intent to obstruct the due execution of the law or with the intent to intimidate, hinder, or interrupt any law enforcement officer in the legal performance of his or her duties, publish or disseminate the residence address or telephone number of any law enforcement officer while designating the officer as such, without authorization of the agency which employs the officer, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

Subsequently, Brayshaw was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. Represented by the American Civil  Liberties Union, he sued.

Note that the law protects only police officers, and only when they are identified as such. Under the law, you could publish your dentist’s address, or even Annette Garrett’s address if you omitted her occupation. The law is explicitly crafted to shield the state’s enforcers.

As deferential as the courts usually are to law-enforcement officers, the Florida law went too far for U.S. District Court Judge Richard Smoak. In his ruling (PDF), he noted that the courts have long held that the government can criminalize the publication of information only under very specific circumstances, including explicit threats.

Simply publishing an officer’s phone number, address, and e-mail address is not in itself a threat or serious expression of an intent to commit an unlawful act of violence. Indeed, the word “threat” appears nowhere in § 843.17, nor was there any threat of violence made by Plaintiff in conjunction with his posting of Officer Garrett’s address and phone number.

Even if Brayshaw intended to intimidate Officer Garrett, such intimidation is legally protected and doesn’t constitute a “true threat.”

Moreover, there’s a clear value to allowing the public to publicize identifying information about police officers.

The publication of truthful personal information about police officers is linked to the issue of police accountability through aiding in achieving service of process, researching criminal history of officers, organizing lawful pickets, and other peaceful and lawful forms of civic involvement that publicize the issue.

Both because the law proscribes protected speech and is not narrowly tailored, Judge Smoak found it “unconstitutional and invalid.”

Which means that Florida residents can go back to publicizing their expriences with police officers with the same freedom under which they review doctors and dishwashers.

Feeling suicidal? There’s a SWAT team for that

You know that infamous Vietnam War-era comment to the effect that “it became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.” Well, one thing I don’t get … Oh, OK, one of many things I don’t get, is the tendency in recent years for law enforcement agencies to respond to reports of despondent individuals on the brink of self-destruction by dispatching teams of armed, aggressive police officers. So, you’ve got a guy actively contemplating the dark attractions of the eternal sleep; do you really think you’re going to make things better by creating a situation in which the fellow gets his wish merely by making a sudden move for his cell phone?

Such was the situation in Cottonwood, Arizona, recently, when a woman reported that her boyfriend was considering suicide and that he owned a gun with which to do the deed.

A 22-year-old Iraq War veteran who talked of suicide was located unharmed at a local fast food restaurant after more than 10 Cottonwood Police Department officers and four members of the Verde Valley Special Weapons and Tactics team surrounded the trailer home where he was believed to reside. …

Uniformed in full military gear, including a bullet-proof vest, a SWAT member patrolled the neighborhood carrying an automatic rifle slung over his shoulder and a pistol at his hip. Several SWAT members were seen carrying automatic rifles.

Note that the situation was resolved not by the invading army, which evacuated five homes during its efforts, but after the poor bastard who triggered this response with his bout of depression and was oblivious to the drama unfolding at his home called his girlfriend on her phone. He was having a burger at a restaurant and ended up chatting with the lone officer who went to meet him.

In their defense (because they’ve fielded some criticism), police “said the response by CPD was customary when an armed suspect is reported.”

But is the poor bastard really “an armed suspect”? It sounds to me like he’s having a bad day. It almost got a lot worse — though it’s true that law enforcement didn’t actually “destroy the village.” They just scared the shit out of it.

Here’s a thought: If you have a friend or relative suffering from a severe case of the blues and you want him or her to survive the bad patch, call a shrink or a priest and leave the cops out of it.

Still disloyal after all these years

In restarting this blog on a new platform, I briefly thought of altering the name — perhaps to a cutesy play on the original title. How does “Disloyaler Opposition” sound to you?

Yeah, I thought that sucked, too.

Anyway, it’s still “Disloyal Opposition” because it’s the same damned repository for my shiraz-addled thoughts as ever, only now published through WordPress instead of the increasingly annoying Blogger, which has now ceased FTP service.

Interestingly, after putting off the switch-over until almost the very last minute, I found WordPress pretty easy to install and use. I’ll admit that I’m not attempting to migrate any old posts — if you want to peruse them, they’re still available at the old blog, which will remain up indefinitely.