Editorials

Law in disorder

TNS

The fact that police and investigators first have to catch criminal suspects before they go to prison has gotten lost on too many tough-on-crime Florida lawmakers.

The results of the state Legislature’s willful memory lapse — crimes that have gone unsolved, gunmen, burglars and rapists that remain free to reoffend — are being seen on the streets in cities across the state, those in South Florida included.

That’s because local police departments are being forced to fill in the funding gap in areas where the state once supplied its investigative tools — and they can’t afford it.

State Attorney General Pam Bondi put one aspect of the problem front and center last week, when she outlined a plan to ensure that “rape kits,” which contain evidence, including DNA samples, are processed more aggressively.

Throughout the state, and across the country, this evidence has gone unexamined, letting rapists assault again.

But that’s only one area in which criminal cases have fallen into an investigative black hole. This is leaving both the public and law-enforcement officers vulnerable.

According to a Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau story, it now takes state-run labs twice as long to process crime-scene evidence as it did three years ago. Highway-patrol officers need new vehicles. Their cars, often used to pursue suspects a high speeds, are in such disrepair as to be dangerous to the troopers and civilians on the road. Pay hasn’t kept up, so experienced detectives are leaving, while those with less experience are shouldering more of the burden of helping local police departments solve crime.

While the Legislature was cutting more than $400 million in taxes from the state budget this year — Gov. Rick Scott originally sought $700 million — the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, for instance, was hindered by a shortage of the scientists and technicians needed to help suss out DNA and other evidence and report back to local departments.

This is more needless fallout from Mr. Scott and the Legislature’s refusal to acknowledge the devastating consequences of such stinginess, to say nothing of how economically foolish it is to fail to properly fund law-enforcement’s needs and services up front.

Rest assured, taxpayers will foot the bill no matter what. They will pay more for homeowners insurance because a serial burglar remains on the loose; they will pay for the emergency-room and trauma care given a victim of violence, carried out by a felon who could have been locked up ages ago; that victim’s family might even lose its breadwinner should he or she die.

In other words, Tallahassee’s philosophy that the tax on yacht repairs should be capped, but that three months to clear fingerprint requests is somehow tolerable keeps the public and officers in peril.

And the economics of this approach make no sense at all.

Ms. Bondi can — and should — step up and advocate here as forcefully as she did for the expedited processing of rape kits.

As the state’s top law-enforcement officer, who better to assertively make the case to both the governor and lawmakers that denying adequate funding to the agencies only means that communities will pay in myriad other, unpleasant, ways?

Ms. Bondi said in a recent interview: “You can’t put a price on safety.”

But her colleagues, unfortunately, have done just that, and it’s way too low.

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