In 1991, Charles Hoeffer was allowed to resign from the Delray Police Department in South Florida after breaking his estranged wife’s nose, an incident that would have landed most people in jail.
In 1994, he was fired from the Riviera Beach Police Department after he was accused of raping a woman in a hotel room while in uniform and on duty, never facing criminal charges for that either.
He even managed to get his job back complete with back pay two years later, remaining with Riviera Beach police until he “retired” in 2008.
Within a month of retirement, he accepted another job at the Palm Beach Shores Police Department where he two women ended up accusing him of sexual assault.
Still not facing criminal charges, Hoeffer has been on paid administrative leave since March of last year as internal affairs “investigates” the allegations against him.
Hoeffer is what is known as a “gypsy cop,” moving from agency to agency, leaving a scandal-plagued trail in their wake. There are many more like him in Florida, a Sarasota Herald-Tribune investigation revealed in 2011.
Despite that troubling revelation, a father and son political duo with seats in the Senate and the House have introduced bills that would protect cops like Hoeffer by making his employment history exempt from public records disclosure.
Had a law like that been in place today, the South Florida Sun Sentinel would not have been able to uncover Hoeffer’s employment history as it did for its investigative report published this month. And the Sarasota Herald-Tribune would not have been able to dig through hundreds of personnel files of police officers for its extensive investigative series titled Unfit for Duty.
Today at 4 p.m. EST, one of the bills goes before a committee, which will determine if the bills goes any further into becoming a law.
But we can make a difference by reaching out to the Florida senators who sit on the Criminal Justice Committee to let them know just how damaging it would be to actually pass a law that would protect bad cops more than they are already protected. Their email addresses are posted below.
But Senate Bill 1324 is only one of about 50 bills being considered this legislative session that seek to restrict access to public records in Florida, which has traditionally been one of the most open states in the nation as far as public records laws go.
Sponsored by Senator Jack Latvala, the bill is almost identical to House Bill 1015, which was introduced by his son, Chris Latvala.
Barbara Peterson, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a non-profit based in Florida dedicated to ensuring transparency in the Sunshine Sate, has written letters to both father and son, voicing her opposition to these bills, urging them to withdraw the bills on the basis that they are unconstitutional.
Since then, Chris Latvala amended the bill where it would not make employment histories of police officers exempt.
But his father hasn’t made any amendments to his bill, which is the one that goes before the criminal justice committee today. While both bills are filled with troubling language, the most troubling is the excerpt from SB 1324 posted below.
Residential addresses, including former residences and residences in which the person frequently resides other than the person’s home address, e-mail addresses, driver license numbers, license plate numbers, banking and financial information, and information identifying former places of employment of active or former sworn or civilian law enforcement personnel and the other specified agency ….
That not only would prevent citizens, including journalists and attorneys from accessing the employment history of police officers, it would prevent police chiefs from doing so as well in the event that they would prefer a cop who isn’t a liability for their agency.
And with cops like Hoeffer still collecting a paycheck, we need all the transparency we can get.
Below are the names and emails of the senators who sit on the Criminal Justice Committee. Please urge them not to consider this bill.