Columns

Boo! Teamsters' Notice of 'Dangerous Criminals' Lawsuit a Tad Over the Top?

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: March 28, 2012 3:55 AM
I Beg to Differ
Bringing a lawsuit is one thing; scaring people half to death dishonestly is another. But such is the culture of the Teamsters Union.

The Teamsters had us all loaded into their scary carnival ride again Tuesday, when Local 2011 filed a legal challenge to restore the requirement that probation officers visit the homes of "dangerous criminals" on probation.

Oh, no, not dangerous criminals!

It's true, the Florida Department of Corrections on Feb. 29 suspended some officers’ visits to offenders' homes and treatment providers until June 30.

Notice, I said some visits would be suspended. Not all -- some.

Nevertheless, the Teamsters crafted their press release as if to alert an unsuspecting public that because of the DOC's recklessness, no Floridian would be safe. As if between now and June 30, "dangerous criminals" would run loose on the streets, unwatched and unsupervised.

"... The suspension breaks Florida law and endangers Florida's communities," the Teamsters' press release claims.

We can wait for the court to decide if the suspension breaks Florida law. (See a copy of the Teamsters' press release and lawsuit in the attachment below.)

But the idea that Florida communities are in danger because of the DOC's cutback is so far over the top, it's floating up in the ether.

It's true, the state had to do something to reel in prison expenses. Corrections is operating $79 million in the hole for the last quarter of this fiscal year. So, for the department to save about $400,000, some offenders will be receiving fewer probation officer visits through June of this year. Only those under intensive supervised probation will get their standard visits.

Offenders on parole for less serious offenses, like house arrest for example, will receive biweekly instead of weekly visits.

Here's how the DOC's Jo Ellyn Rackleff explained it would happen:
  • The department will continue to visit and monitor all probationers, she said, because Floridians' safety is DOC's primary goal. "How we do these checks is a matter of security and we will not discuss it, as we have always not publicly discussed these security-related matters."
  • Probationers will still be required to meet monthly with their probation officer at the probation office.
  • Other measures will be taken to verify inmate residence and employment, without having to visit their residence.
  • They will continue to be drug-tested with a probationer, if that is part of what's called for.
  • All conditions ordered by the court will continue to be enforced.
  • Sex offenders and community control probationers will continue to receive field contacts (face-to-face visits from probation officers) as required by law.
  • A supervisor can approve a field contact for any probationer where the supervising officer can demonstrate a public safety threat or violation of conditions of probation.
"There has been no compromise to public safety," Rackleff said.

Ken Wood, acting president of Teamsters Local 2011, which represents 20,000 DOC officers, said this in the union's release: "We want to make sure Florida's citizens are safe and the DOC does what the law tells it to do. DOC’s new action (curtailing probationer visits) is not only dangerous, but illegal.”
 
The Teamsters argue DOC’s action violates Florida Statute 944.09(4), which states, “the department shall ... keep informed concerning the conduct, habits, associates, employment, recreations, and whereabouts of such probationer, by visits, by requiring reports, and in other ways.”

The Teamsters also argue DOC violated Section 120.54(a)(1) of the Florida statutes, which requires the agency to engage in the rule-making procedure before acting to change offender supervision.

The press release harped on danger and "the safety of our citizens" in virtually every paragraph. Said Teamsters’ attorney Ron Silver, “We know that home visits are critical to keeping our citizens safe, whether it’s in their home, at work or at school. The safety of our citizens is paramount.”

It wrapped up with a scary list of items probation officers have found on home visits -- as if to say, oh-oh, citizens, lock yourself in your homes: "They have found guns, drugs, credit card fraud and other illicit activity in probationers’ homes."

Teamster leaders over the years have told me the union wants to change its scary, heavy-handed image. Maybe so. But that change is slower than a wet weekend in coming.

I remember Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa Jr.'s thuggy speech in Detroit last Labor Day, when he did his best to threaten and bully the tea party. "Everybody here's got to vote. If we go back, and keep our eye on the prize -- let's take these sons of [expletive] out, and give America back to America where we belong!" Junior roared.

Typical intimidation tactics. All right out of the Teamsters' playbook.

The lawsuit? OK, I get it. It gets your attention and fires up your members. But I look at this press release, with its not-so-subtle and, frankly, reckless references to the Department of Corrections' disregard for public safety, and I see no positive change coming anytime soon in Teamsterland. None.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.




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Comments (5)

p.o.
8:19AM APR 2ND 2012
You need to check your facts. Since you believe only those on probation for less serious offenses will not be getting checked on, that must mean you believe murder, armed robbery, aggravated battery, gun possession, etc. are less serious offenses. These are the probationers that are free to move about your community with no checks.
Dick
12:34PM MAR 30TH 2012
Ms Smith should better research the differences between Parole(which is defunct in Florida) and House arrest. And btw....most of the serious violations occur with offenders on supervision for minor offenses.....maybe research a case that occur a few years ago when a BSO deputy was shot in the head by a probationer. Guess what he was on supervision for????Driving on a suspended license......
Kim
8:07PM MAR 29TH 2012
I am so disappointed by your reckless reporting of the story. The first criticism is your obvious dislike for the Teamsters as a union. Secondly, it is apparent that you have done little to o research on the role of a probation officer and the importance of field work. Had you done so, i feel quite strongly that your position would have been quite different. Did you even read the petitipn? Less that 10% of all offenders on probation are receiving field supervision. The drugs, guns, false addresses, credit card fraud and other illegal activity are not discovered in the office, but at the offender's residence. Offenders who have curfews are not being monitored. As a journalist, people rely on you to print the truth and your article lacks substance and is full of half truths.
Roberta Lemke
1:59AM MAR 29TH 2012
Get real !! Just because the probation officers aren't doing constant home checks for a couple of months, does not put anyone in any more danger. And if the teamsters didn't blab about it to the world... those offenders would have been none the wiser... Good grief get a grip...
Frank
9:52AM MAR 28TH 2012
NANCY - Speaking of "reckless" - have you apologized to Susan Bucher yet for your reckless insinuations about the Wellington election. You owe her an apology. It WAS the voting machine software.

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