- Lawrence Mower Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office removed its online booking blotter on Monday after The Palm Beach Post reported Sunday that the agency had been selectively deleting arrested officers’ names from the public jail log.
PBSO wouldn’t say why the site was taken down or if the move is permanent. Sheriff Ric Bradshaw made the decision to take it down “until further notice,” spokeswoman Teri Barbera said.
A request for comment from Bradshaw, a Democrat first elected in 2004, was not returned.
His decision could have far-reaching effects on lawyers, probation officers, bail bondsmen and investigators who rely on the free service.
“This has created huge problems for a lot of people,” said defense attorney Ira Karmelin. “Many of them might not know it yet.”
On Sunday, The Post reported that PBSO, which runs the county jail, selectively removes from the blotter the names of police officers who are arrested. At least five officers arrested this year never appeared in the public blotter, including Boynton Beach officer Stephen Maiorino, who was booked last month on accusations he raped a woman at gunpoint while on duty.
PBSO blamed the deletions on its software. The blotter contains personal information, such as dates of birth and home addresses, that can’t be made public for police officers under state law. The software couldn’t delete the exempt information without deleting the person’s name, too, PBSO said last week in a statement.
However, the software was doing exactly that as recently as last year. The Post published blotter entries from 2011 and 2013 that provided officer names and the charges they faced but did not include their home address.
Police are not required to maintain a website that allows people to search the county jail for inmates, although every Florida county on the Atlantic coast has one. It’s considered a public service, and therefore not subject to the state’s public records law.
But the names, mugshots and arrest information of inmates is a public record and can be obtained through public record requests. The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that the only delay allowed to produce public records is the “limited reasonable time” needed to retrieve the record and assure it doesn’t contain exempt information.
News reporters use the blotter to look for stories, and news websites, including The Post, republish the mugshots and arrest information for readers to peruse.
The site is also an important cog in the criminal justice system. Relatives or friends of inmates use it to check on their loved ones and learn why they were arrested. Private investigators and probation officers use it to see if people they need to keep track of are arrested.
Bail bondsmen use it to look up information for potential clients, according to Sam Jochananov, a managing general agent at Gun Club Bail Bonds.
Now, he’ll have to call the jail for information, and he doesn’t believe the jail has enough staff to handle the increase in calls.
“It’s definitely going to slow down things,” Jochananov said.
The site is also crucial for lawyers seeking potential clients, Karmelin said.
At least 50 lawyers in the county, including himself, mail fliers and advertisements to people who have been arrested, he said. Now he’ll have to file records requests every day to get that information.
But he also said that the booking blotter has sometimes given too much information on officers. His experience comes from representing officers who have been arrested.
“I’ve even had cops’ addresses mistakenly on there,” he said.
A call to the jail usually fixes the problem, he said.
Bradshaw’s decision sparked concern that other agencies would follow suit. The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office blotter also was offline for part of the day Monday, but agency spokesman Mark Weinberg blamed it on a technical problem. It had nothing to do with PBSO or The Post’s story and it was back online by the afternoon.
People who need to check the status of a friend or family member booked into the jail can call the Main Detention Center at (561) 688-4340 or the West Detention Center, in Belle Glade, at (561) 992-1231.