March 17, 2014

The Great Debate

By: Steve Casey, Executive Director

It is true, Americans love a great debate. You might say it's a part of our political DNA going back to the founding of our nation. The media loves a great debate even more because it sells newspapers, magazines, website advertisements and television commercials, and increases readership, subscriptions and revenues.

We all live in a fast-paced world where the answers to our problems are often complex and we don't have time for all the details. But we still want answers and we want them now. Reporters have word count limitations which restrict what they can cover, and deadlines. Because of this the media has to package up the debates on complex issues into a series of 30 second sound bites and short stories. In doing so, many details have to be ignored and or taken off the table.

Tallahassee is the place in our state where people come to debate such matters. The sheriffs, as elected officials, engage in debates on public safety issues every day in their communities and collectively at the Capitol. The sheriffs are often accused of saying “no” to everything. This is far from the truth. For they spend a great deal of time reviewing proposed legislation and making suggestions on how to make the legislation useful.

But I will admit there are some issues (i.e.: prostitution, drug-trafficking, gambling, drug abuse, gun crime, violent crime, sexual crimes, child and elder abuse, protecting a victim’s rights, and holding criminals accountable) the sheriffs hold steadfast on. In this regard, the sheriffs feel they have a duty to educate the public on why they have taken a particular position and make sure the general public understands all sides of the issue.  We try hard to make sure our message gets out but often our message as to why we oppose the issue does not really make the news.

As we are in the early days of the 2014 legislative session the sheriffs are engaging in a number of important debates that affect public safety in our state and thus our quality of life. The sheriffs are not engaging in these debates for entertainment or financial reasons, they are engaging because as the “chief law enforcement officer” in their county they believe they know what it takes to keep their citizens safe and they want to protect the quality of life in our state for everyone.

When the sheriffs collectively oppose issues like the legalization of marijuana they do so because they truly feel the increased use of drugs will damage our quality of life (i.e.: increased criminal activity, increased drug dependency, increased emergency room admissions, reduced student achievement, and increased traffic accidents and work related injuries) and this is not the vision the sheriffs have for our state.

Ultimately, the voters will decide on issues like the legalization of marijuana, and whatever the outcome the sheriffs will continue to do the work they do to keep us safe.  So the next time you read a story where the sheriffs are speaking out against an issue and they are made to look like the “bad guys” for doing so, consider their motive and ask yourself if you have been given all the facts. The answer to that question may surprise you.

 Until next time, stay safe! 

Behind the Badge is the official blog of the Florida Sheriffs Association.



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