Police agencies split over how to protect crime victims' rights

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office no longer lists homicide victims' names online

By Ashley Spicer - Reporter, anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - People visiting the transparency page on the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office website might be surprised to find out that they can no longer view the names of homicide victims.

Until just recently, crime victims’ names were available on the page alongside other details including victims’ ages, genders and races. It now says “record exempt” where their names were once listed.

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Lt. Chris Brown said the names were removed from the page as part of an effort to follow the rules outlined in Amendment 6, which significantly expands crime victims’ rights.

The constitutional amendment, passed by Floridians in November, is based on California’s Marsy’s Law. It formed a crime victims’ bill of rights, which aims to keep them both informed and protected.

First Amendment Attorney Ed Birk, who represents News4Jax, said the law is confusing. Because of the wording, he noted, how to intepret the law is being left up to individual law enforcement agencies.

Agencies like JSO, for instance, have adopted an opt-in approach. They will not release crime victims’ personal details unless the victim or their family waives their right to keep the information private.

Others including sheriff’s offices in Bradford, Clay, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties are following an opt-out approach. So crime victims’ names must ask to keep those details under wraps.

First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen said it’s an issue in Tallahassee, where the Leon County Sheriff’s Office divulges names but the Tallahassee Police Department does not.

“It not only undermines our confidence in law enforcement, but how does it protect the victim?” said Petersen, whose organization fights to keep public records open to the public.

On the flip side, victims’ advocates contend the law is a step in the right direction for crime victims.

“It comes upon them all of a sudden,” said Robert Bracewell of the Justice Coalition. “They don’t ask to be victims and they need help. As you know, victims go through a very traumatic experience.”

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