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Guest opinion: Adult civil citations a cost-saving public safety idea whose time has come

November 10, 2012
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Imagine you and some buddies are enjoying a friendly low-stakes poker game

when your enthusiastic host turns the music up way too loud. One of his

neighbors gets annoyed and calls the police, who discover the poker game -

and suddenly you're facing a possible gambling arrest.

Or imagine you've been standing in line patiently for hours to buy the

latest piece of technology when someone tries to cut into the line. You tell

him to get to the back of the line, but the line-cutter threatens to assault

you and everyone around you. The situation escalates and the next thing you

know, everyone is facing a disorderly conduct charge.

These kinds of scenarios could happen to anyone. Even with no criminal

intent, we can easily be caught breaking a law. Until now, law enforcement

officers in Florida have had only two choices in these circumstances: let

you go or arrest you.

Soon, however, officers and deputies in Florida's capital county will have

another, much smarter alternative. Next month Leon County will become the

first place in Florida to provide officers with the discretion to issue

Adult Civil Citations to first-time, non-violent individuals who commit

certain low-level offenses. These individuals will be spared from a criminal

arrest record that would follow them for the rest of their lives.

Florida has successfully utilized civil citations for juveniles for 17 years

now, and the Florida Smart Justice Alliance believes this new approach will

save tens - perhaps hundreds - of millions of dollars per year if it is

implemented for adults statewide. Not only will it save money, but the Adult

Civil Citation process will also enhance public safety by freeing up law

enforcement, prosecutors and courts to deal with more serious criminals.

The agreement to implement Adult Civil Citations within Leon County came

about thanks to visionary leaders across the criminal justice spectrum - not

just law enforcement and prosecutors, but also the Public Defender's Office,

the judiciary and local treatment providers. Despite their usual

differences, they all agree that civil citations represent a smarter way to

use tax dollars to keep the public safe.

Here's how it works: Local agreements give officers the flexibility to

determine when certain alcohol, drug and other non-violent offenders would

be better served by receiving an adult civil citation rather than being

arrested for minor offenses like public intoxication, petty theft,

disorderly conduct, trespassing and the like. Offenders who qualify will

still be required to perform community service and undergo treatment for any

conditions that contributed to their offenses, and they - rather than the

taxpayers - will pay all costs. If they fail to meet the conditions of the

program, they face arrest.

However, the process can spare them a criminal record, eliminating a major

barrier to future employment, education, military service and other

opportunities to build a law-abiding life. The taxpayers also benefit

tremendously, avoiding the substantial expense of prosecuting and

incarcerating these first-time, low-level offenders.

Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell, who has taken a hard-line approach to

crime and criminals over his 16 years in office, supports Adult Civil

Citations because, as he put it, "A minor stupid act shouldn't automatically

ruin a person's life." At the same time Public Defender Nancy Daniels, who

often represents those the sheriff arrests, is equally enthusiastic because

a civil citation "has the ability to change a life for the better by keeping

the person out of our criminal justice system."

Adult Civil Citation is an idea whose time has come. It helps individuals,

it helps law enforcement and - most importantly - it helps the taxpayers. It

represents the essence of a smart justice approach to crime in Florida, and

it has the potential to rewrite how Florida's criminal justice system

operates. With the cooperation and support of leaders in communities across

our state, it can become an important tool for cost-effective public safety.

Mark Flynn is the president and chief executive officer of the Florida Smart

Justice Alliance, a statewide coalition of organizations "committed to

changes that make communities safer, save the taxpayers money and hold

offenders accountable while helping them learn to live law-abiding lives."



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