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Scanners to be Taken Back by JSO; Media Protests

10:23 PM, Jul 20, 2011   |    comments
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  • JSO Undersheriff Dwain Senterfitt explained to media members why JSO is taking scanners back
  • First Coast News managers discuss JSO's decision to take back their scanners
  • This is the type of scanner radio JSO is taking back
  • Spokesperson Lauri-Ellen Smith and Public Information Officer Melissa Bujeda were also in the meeting
    

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Conflicting opinions sat across from each other this afternoon at the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, with First Coast News among those on the other side of the table.

The scanners currently in use by media outlets in Jacksonville are the property of JSO and are leased to the media on a monthly basis. But JSO is taking them back at the end of August, and the media protested the decision today, citing First Amendment issues.

Undersheriff Dwain Senterfitt met with news directors and attorneys today to discuss in front of cameras the decision.

"We're pulling the radios back," Senterfitt said, "not only from you guys (media), but also from a variety of law enforcement agencies and other entities around that have our radios."

He cited money as the reason for the decision, saying the budget just isn't as large as it once was and the radios need to be moved to the new courthouse, which will have a larger law enforcement presence than the current courthouse.

But several people spoke up, saying the media, including First Coast News, would pay any necessary costs to keep the scanners. Senterfitt, however, also added "operational concerns" to the reasons JSO was taking back the scanners.

"We have times where we have members of the media interjecting themselves into our investigations," he offered, citing times when media members following scanners get to the scene of an active suspect search or hostage situation.

JSO uses EARS (Emergency Alert Radio System) broadcasts to alert media to major events, and Senterfitt said JSO is willing to expand the use of EARS to make up for the lack of scanning radios.

The current use of EARS is for police call-outs like homicide, traffic homicide and the bomb squad.

THE CURRENT EARS CRITERIA

EARS broadcasts, however, by their nature are given out after - sometimes "hours afterwards," according to one media representative today - an incident is well underway, and that was a major sticking point in today's meeting.

By losing scanner traffic in newsrooms, media response to JSO action is limited to what is broadcast via EARS or email, as several news directors and assignment editors argued.

"I hear what your point is; I don't agree with it," Senterfitt responded.

He said he will direct officers in the streets to offer better information back to the communication center, so watch commanders can then respond to media inquiries.

"It's not a transparency issue for me at all," he said.

"It is for us," came the reply in near unison.

The scanners still will be removed from newsrooms, though Senterfitt agreed to wait until the end of August to allow the media time to review the EARS list and make any requests for additions.

DO HAVE A REQUEST FOR AN ADDITION TO EARS LIST? EMAIL US HERE.

Neither side reached agreement, but the meeting wasn't to meant to make a compromise; it was simply for Senterfitt to explain the decision and answer questions.

"We both have our own priorities, and sometimes they don't match up," he said.

Ken Paulson with the First Amendment Center in Nashville praised Florida for having one of the most repsected open record laws in the country.

Paulson said he thinks the community would be better served if JSO maintains its currect open communication.

"I believe that law enfocement spirit of openness would embrace a long held tradition of allowing those frequencies to be monitored by the press, it is healthy for everyone," said Paulson.

He added, you can't demand a right to listen to the radios under the First Amendment, but this goes against the spirit.

First Coast News

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