New law will shield law enforcement vehicles’ comings and goings from public view

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The new law signed Friday is one of a number of new exemptions to the state's broad public records law passed this Session.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law Friday that will exempt law enforcement vehicles’ geolocation information from the public record.

After Gov. DeSantis signed the measure, (SB 1046) the sponsor of the House version (HB 773) applauded the move. Democratic Rep. Matt Willhite, who represents inland Palm Beach County, says it will shield law enforcement personnel and their families from unnecessary risk.

“Police officers often take their law enforcement vehicle home — where their families live,” Willhite said in a statement. “The potential exposure of a law enforcement officers’ residence (from a public information request) puts the officers and their families at unnecessary risk. As we celebrate National Police Week, I am thankful that the Governor recognized the Legislature’s intent to protect our officers as they continue to protect our residents each day.”

Geolocation information refers to the data collected using a global positioning system or another mapping, locational or directional information system that allows tracking of a vehicle.

Republican Sen. Don Hooper of Palm Harbor sponsored the Senate version of the bill that was eventually signed into law.

The bill was one of several new public record exemptions passed this Session. SB 520 proved the most controversial of these new exemptions to Florida’s extensive public records law, called the Sunshine Law. This new exemption that was signed into law keeps the names of candidates for the top jobs at the state’s colleges and universities out of public view. Under that law, candidates’ names will not be known when and if they reach the finalist stage.

The Orlando Sentinel earlier this year included the police geolocation exemption in its list of new public records exemptions proposals recommended for rejection. The newspaper pointed out that the Sun-Sentinel was able to determine police were speeding because of data from geolocation devices in the police cars. The paper won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its series on the issue.

The editorial acknowledged that giving out the information could compromise ongoing investigations, but there is also a public interest in including the data in the public record, the newspaper said.

“It could also help the public understand how police resources — which they pay for with their taxes — are distributed throughout their communities,” the editorial said.

SB 1046 passed unanimously in the House and with one “nay” in the Senate.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected]



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