In preparation for Hurricane Irma, residents have been instructed to make the necessary arrangements to ensure their safety and the the safety of their loved ones. But in Polk County, if you’re a fugitive of the law, the directive is to turn yourself into the police instead of ensuring your safety. Should those with outstanding warrants no matter the reason, turn up at a shelter, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd is threatening arrest and a transfer to the county jail.
As reported by the Orlando Sentinel:
The sheriff, who is known for his outspoken comments, made the threat in a series of posts to Twitter.
“If you go to a shelter for #Irma and you have a warrant, we’ll gladly escort you to the safe and secure shelter called the Polk County Jail,” Judd tweeted to his nearly 66,000 followers on Twitter.
Judd also posted that officers would be at every shelter checking IDs and that sex offenders and sex predators would not be allowed inside.
When checking IDs, if an officer sees that someone has a warrant, that person will be taken into custody, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Carrie Horstman said.
Horstman added officers don’t have a way of seeing what crime the warrant is for, so it’s possible those with non-violent misdemeanor offenses could be arrested.
This means if someone does not wish to be separated from a loved one, many will take the unnecessary risk of attempting to go a different shelter, or not seeking shelter at all.
“Officers are legally obligated to take a person into custody if they have a warrant,” she said.
Judd said in preparation for the hurricane, fugitives should turn themselves into the jail because “it’s a secure location.”
Horstman said the posts were made ahead of the storm to give people ample time to prepare.
“We cannot and we will not have innocent children in a shelter with sexual offenders and predators. Period,” Judd posted to his Twitter, @PolkCoSheriff.
Horstman said since there’s a possibility children will be in the shelters, sex offenders and sex predators are not allowed inside. She said they had a similar policy during the 2004 hurricane season. It’s unclear if any arrests were made at shelters due to warrants.The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said Judd should “focus on preparing for Irma, not burnishing your Joe Arpaio-style ‘tough cop’ credentials with irresponsible tweets.”
Arpaio, a former sheriff in Arizona, was found guilty of criminal contempt after denying a court order to halt stopping immigrants because of suspicion they were in the country illegally. He was pardoned by President Donald Trump last month.
The nonprofit says most people with outstanding warrants are low-level offenders and pose no threat in a shelter.
Judd’s comments “send the message that these individuals must choose between facing a natural disaster without aid and shelter or going to jail over things like unpaid traffic tickets,” a statement from ACLU reads.
Asked if supported Judd’s actions, Gov. Rick Scott said, “I haven’t seen that. My expectation is that everyone needs to follow the evacuation orders and get to safety. I’d have to look at exactly what was said.’’
Horstman said undocumented immigrants will not be affected by the policy. She also said that the policy will help the county keep a log at the shelter, which she said is important during a natural disaster.
“We aren’t sitting there looking for people to arrest,” she said “We are sitting there to keep people safe.”
The article continues:
But State Representative Carlos Smith said the practice of checking IDs of evacuees seeking refuge unfairly targeted undocumented immigrants.
“The message has already been received by the 18,000 undocumented persons in Polk County,” Smith said. “This is not the message we need to be sending out with a disaster upon us.”
Smith added that if anyone in Polk County felt threatened to go to shelters in Polk County, “they can absolutely come to Orange County and Orlando.”
While it is comforting that those with outstanding warrants will have somewhere to go, they should not be made to make the choice between their safety and risking arrest. Many will not be alone and will be taking that risk with children or elderly in tow.