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Cops' Cell Phones Called 'Big' Safety Issue

TALLAHASSEE -- Frank Fabrizio, head of special investigations for the Orange County, Fla. Sheriff's Office, has spent years as an undercover detective and commanding SWAT teams. But his biggest fear Tuesday was that the wrong people might get phone numbers for police officers and endanger their lives.

"This is an officer-safety issue," said Fabrizio, who traveled to Tallahassee to push a proposal to legally conceal the cell-phone numbers of police officers.

People who get such numbers could call in the middle of a sensitive police raid, or locate undercover sources and domestic-violence victims and hurt them, Fabrizio said.

But others argued that the proposed law goes too far.

The same cell-phone numbers that would be hidden often are listed on police officers' business cards, said former Sen. Curt Kiser, a lobbyist for the Florida Press Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors.

Kiser said information about undercover detectives already is legally protected and that shielding cell-phone records could keep the public from finding out about a police officer who wastes tax money by making personal calls.

The measure was one of several controversial proposals to conceal public information endorsed Thursday by a House committee. Fabrizio and Kiser both said later that they hope to make a compromise.

"I'm hopeful we'll be able to get refinements to limit undercover activities, informants and things like that, but a blanket exemption is too much," Kiser said.

The State Administration Committee also recommended concealing information about customers of city-owned utility firms and closing some meetings of a new state Alzheimer's Center being pushed by House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City (HB 387).

All three proposals have been criticized for limiting public access to information protected for decades by "Government in the Sunshine" laws.

The utility bill (HB 451) would conceal the name, address and phone number of customers of government-owned utilities, such as Orlando's.

Rep. Mike Hogan, R-Jacksonville, said such records must be closed to prevent identity theft.

Barry Moline of the Florida Municipal Electrical Association said it's unfair that 85 percent of state residents have privacy because they have privately owned utilities, but customers of public utilities do not. Moline said the bill also will shield information about big corporate customers, which he said will protect business for city utilities.

Consumer and environmental advocates have opposed such measures, saying that closing such records makes it harder for taxpayers to track how tax money is spent and how the state's dwindling water resources are used.

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