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John Timoney Photo by: Graham Turner

'Stand Your Ground' law a disaster says former Miami top cop John Timoney

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John Timoney Photo by: Graham Turner

The slaying of black teenager Travyon Martin by George Zimmerman was totally predictable says Irish-born former Miami top cop John Timoney, a Dublin native.

“The  very public controversy surrounding the killing on Feb. 26 of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, by a crime watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, was predictable,” Timoney wrote in The New York Times.

Timoney, a former senior cop in New York and police chief in Philadelphia, says he warned Florida legislators when they brought in the law in 2005 that a disaster would happen.

Timoney now a top advisor to Bahrain authorities on security stated that “I, along with other Florida chiefs of police, said so in a letter to the Legislature in 2005 when we opposed the passage of a law that not only enshrined the doctrine of 'your home is your castle' but took this doctrine into the public square and added a new concept called “stand your ground.”

Timoney points out that trained police officers and untrained civilians deal with potential shooting situations very differently.

“In fact, officer-involved shootings were the No. 1 problem when I became Miami’s police chief in January 2003. But after we put in place new policies and training, officers went 20 months without discharging a single bullet at a person, while arrests increased over 30 percent.”

Timoney stated that the “Stand Your Ground” law passed by the Florida legislature greatly endangered innocent civilians  by encouraging untrained civilians to use force.

“Trying to control shootings by members of a well-trained and disciplined police department is a daunting enough task. Laws like 'stand your ground' give citizens unfettered power and discretion with no accountability. It is a recipe for disaster.”

The Florida law, Timoney explained was an extension of "Your home is your castle” by allowing a civilian to not retreat or face any prosecution if he shot someone if he legitimately felt threatened.

Timoney stated: “But I pointed out at the time that even a police officer is held to account for every single bullet he or she discharges, so why should a private citizen be given more rights when it came to using deadly physical force? I also asked the bill’s sponsor, State Representative Dennis K. Baxley, to point to any case in Florida where a homeowner had been indicted or arrested as a result of 'defending his castle.' He could not come up with a single one.

“The only thing that is worse than a bad law is an unnecessary law. Clearly, this was the case here.”

Civilians feel threatened all the time Timoney pointed out, in bad neighborhoods, in dimly lit streets etc. Allowing them leeway to use weapons in such cases only makes things much worse.

Timoney pointed out there is a huge difference between how a police officer is trained to deal with a potential conflict compared to an armed civilian.

“Police officers are trained to de-escalate highly charged encounters with aggressive people, using deadly force as a last resort. Citizens, on the other hand, may act from emotion and perceived threats. But “stand your ground” gives citizens the right to use force in public if they feel threatened. As the law emphatically states, a citizen has “no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground.”

“Stand Your Ground” is a disaster Timoney stated.

“As Florida police chiefs predicted in 2005, the law has been used to justify killings ranging from drug dealers’ turf battles to road rage incidents. Homicides categorized as justifiable have nearly tripled since the law went into effect.”

He appealed for the governor to repeal it.

“Gov. Rick Scott of Florida can make all Floridians proud by being the first governor to reject and repeal such misguided laws.

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