Polk County, FL — Hurricane Irma is still several days out, however, controversy over how police intend to respond is already
— Polk County Sheriff (@PolkCoSheriff) September 6, 2017
" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> here. The Polk County Sheriff's office is now reeling from a Tweet it made Wednesday morning noting that all people seeking shelter from the hurricane will be made to show ID.
On the surface, the Sheriff department's post seems benign enough as they explain that this is to deter sex offenders and people with warrants.
"If you go to a shelter for #Irma, be advised: sworn LEOs will be at every shelter, checking IDs. Sex offenders/predators will not be allowed."
However, several minutes later, another tweet followed. "If you go to a shelter for #Irma and you have a warrant, we'll gladly escort you to the safe and secure shelter called the Polk County Jail."
Naturally, most people do not want to be in a shelter with sex offenders and criminals. However, people with outstanding warrants aren't necessarily criminals, and because of that fact, Twitter responded to the tweet with a ferocious backlash.
In the state of Florida, you can and will be pulled over and ticketed for driving a car with dark tinted windows. Despite not causing harm to anyone, the state of Florida will claim that your window tint was so dark that you now owe them money.
If you are unable to pay this money to the state, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. This warrant is issued in spite the fact that you may not be able to pay the fine because have a family to feed or children to support.
During the hurricane, people who may be trying to seek shelter for their families will be denied that shelter based on the fact that they have a warrant. That warrant could be over window tint.
As TFTP has reported on countless occasions, laws for victimless crimes like window tint, seat belt violations, parking tickets, etc., hurt the poor the most. Many people have to literally choose between eating and paying an extortion fee to the state for not wearing a seat belt. If you had to choose between feeding your children for two weeks or giving a police department $250 for a seat belt fine, which would you pay?
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Sadly, the sheriff is missing the point and essentially creating a larger problem in the future by encouraging tens of thousands of people to ride out the storm in their homes.
In Florida, the total number of outstanding warrants, both felony and misdemeanor, is 325,000, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Most of those warrants are for nonviolent crimes. In fact, of those 325,000, only 898 homicide warrants, 273 kidnapping warrants, and 565 sexual assault warrants are outstanding. That's less than one-half of one percent of all warrants.
When asked about the potentially devastating crisis created by this papers please policy, public information officer Carrie Eleazer Horstman reminded everyone of the potential for 26,000 sex offenders in the state to seek out shelters and start acting out.
As the Tampa Bay Times reports, when asked whether the office is worried the tweets might discourage some from seeking shelter, Horstman noted that the office would be held responsible if they allowed sexual predators to share shelter with children and families or if they failed to arrest someone who they knew had an outstanding warrant.
"We see that people [on Twitter] are upset, but the bottom line is the shelters are here to protect people and we want people to be safe," Horstman said. "If you have a warrant, turn yourself into the jail and if you are a predator, find somewhere to go."
Even if all the poor folks who have warrants for being unable to pay their traffic fines did turn themselves in, the potential for a different catastrophe arises.
Jails are not magically immune to natural disasters.
People locked in cages during floods are subject to horrifying conditions. While many of the people in those cages deserve to be there—many others do not.
As you watch this disaster unfold on your TV, as the Florida government scrambles to rescue tens of thousands of hurricane victims from their rooftops, remember many of them could've been in shelters but they were too poor to pay the ticket for window tint.