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. DOCs new action (curtailing probationer visits) is not only dangerous, but illegal.
The Teamsters argue DOCs 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 its 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.