State lawmakers in Florida are under fire from across the political spectrum after approving a controversial $1-million “hotline” and “violence-prevention unit” for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office aimed at encouraging citizens to report neighbors, friends, and family members to authorities. A national outcry ensued after a quote from Sheriff Ric Bradshaw in a news article suggested a resident who “hates the government” and expresses violent sentiments should be reported under the new program.
The scheme, which was approved by Florida lawmakers as part of the state government’s massive new budget, has sparked furious controversy. After the news was posted on the conservative-leaning Drudge Report, high-profile figures such as radio talk-show host and Palm Beach resident Rush Limbaugh have blasted and ridiculed the idea. Civil liberties questions and concerns about potential abuse have also been expressed, with critics lambasting state and county authorities for encouraging locals to “snitch” on each other.
More than a few prominent voices, meanwhile, are calling on Republican Gov. Rick Scott to stop the scheme using his line-item veto authority. A recent editorial in the Washington Times calling for the GOP governor to kill the funding, for example, highlighted numerous problems with the plan, suggesting it was aimed at “fundamentally transforming the country in the image of the Eastern Bloc.” It also blasted the sheriff and the controversial U.S. Department of Homeland Security for encouraging such paranoia and extremism.
The libertarian-leaning Reason magazine also called for a veto, describing the program as a “civil liberties abomination” and suggesting that there might be corruption in the sheriff’s office. “The Florida governor, Rick Scott, can still use the line-item veto to stop this state spending, and ought to,” wrote Reason’s Ed Krayewski. “Bradshaw’s response to the Seth Adams shooting ought to be enough to disqualify from any state support for yet more police powers.”
The quote from Sheriff Bradshaw that sparked the firestorm, published in an April 29 Palm Beach Post article, hinted at what sort of residents authorities were hoping would be reported. “We want people to call us if the guy down the street says he hates the government, hates the mayor and he’s gonna shoot him,” the sheriff was quoted as saying, though more than a few critics left out the part about threatening to act on that hatred using violence. “What does it hurt to have somebody knock on a door and ask, ‘Hey, is everything OK?’”
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