Faith leaders petition Manatee sheriff to use driving infraction diversion program
BRADENTON, Fla. (WWSB) - Faith leaders in Manatee County delivered hundreds of letters to the sheriff’s office Wednesday, from residents asking Sheriff Rick Wells to participate is a program that would allow people charged with minor, nondangerous driving offenses to go into a diversion program that would let offenders avoid arrest and a criminal record.
Wells was not on hand to talk with the group. A deputy accepted the letters at the Sheriff’s Office headquarters.
“I would say that we are very disappointed that we couldn’t even see the sheriff or his secretary,” said Ossie Reid, from Harvest United Methodist Church. “These are minor misdemeanors. And we don’t want these folks to get a record that could create issues not only within their own personal lives, but lives for their families and children.”
The sheriff’s office later released a statement saying such programs are already in place. “For years, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has worked with the State Attorney’s Office and other organizations to adopt diversion programs for minor offenses,” it read.
“Contrary to what’s being stated, a first-time offender who has no knowledge that their driver’s license has been suspended receives an infraction citation and not a misdemeanor charge.”
The adult diversion program, offered by State Attorney Ed Brodsky, is in use in Sarasota County.
The faith group says based on data from the Manatee County Court clerk, arrests for minor driving offenses like driving on a suspended license or expired tag make up nearly half of all misdemeanor arrests in Manatee County.
The program is important to low-income residents, Reid said, “so they are not branded for life with an arrest record because that just creates a spiral of criminalization of poverty, because if they are arrested and taken to jail, that means they’ll miss days of work. They might miss their house payment, rent payment, mortgage payment, and and the cycle continues.”
“We need to stop criminalizing poverty in Manatee County,” says Dr. Joreatha Capers, pastor of Rogers Community Church in east Bradenton. “When someone loses their driver’s license because they can’t afford to pay a fee, arresting them for driving on a suspended license only throws their family into greater poverty,”
“The program allows people to face consequences and get the help they need to get their lives back on track, without being branded for life with a criminal record.”
The entire response from the sheriff’s office:
In reference to those asking for lessened enforcement of traffic laws in Manatee County, Sheriff Rick Wells and other law enforcement officials have made it very clear that any changes to state statutes need to be addressed by the Florida Legislators who continue to make adjustments in traffic laws for those impacted by suspended licenses.
For years, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office has worked with the State Attorney’s Office and other organizations to adopt diversion programs for minor offences.”, said Sheriff Rick Wells. “Contrary to what’s being stated, a first-time offender who has no knowledge that their driver’s license has been suspended receives an infraction citation and not a misdemeanor charge. Driving with an expired tag is an infraction unless the tag has been expired for more than 6 months. The majority of the expired tags, my deputies come across, result in a summons and not an arrest.
We also find, people who typically drive with a suspended license or an expired tag often don’t have car insurance and are recklessly putting other motorists at risk. Every day, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office receives numerous traffic complaints from citizens who observe violations of state traffic laws and we continue to enforce these laws and make our roads safer.
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