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Florida’s Special Persons Registry Act: Enhancing Police-Disability Interactions

SB 784, also known as ‘Protect Our Loved Ones Act’, maintains the “Special Persons Registry’ database in Florida, which took effect on January 1, 2024. It is a specialized registry for people with disabilities to improve their interactions with law enforcement. This registry, detailed in House Bills 1275 and 1277, includes guidelines for listing individuals and controlling access to the information.

The purpose of the registry is to inform law enforcement about a person’s disability, preventing misinterpretations of behaviors that could be wrongly perceived as hostility or criminal intent. Other Florida programs like Smart911 in Sumter County, and CARES (County Autism Response & Enhanced Services) in Seminole County, exemplify efforts to alert first responders about someone’s disability by use of an identification bracelet program.

Enrollment in the Registry

Enrollment in the registry requires a confirmed diagnosis from a healthcare professional. The registry contains personal and disability-related information, and individuals can request removal from the registry. Access to this information is limited to first responders and is exempt from public records requests.

The registry, which is voluntary, requires proof of disability and, if applicable, proof of guardianship for registrations made on behalf of someone else. It is hoped that this registry will assist especially in situations involving missing persons with special needs, providing vital information to narrow down search efforts.

Registry Concerns

Despite its potential benefits, the effectiveness of the law in broader scenarios involving distressed individuals remains to be seen. Concerns have been raised about the high incidence of fatal police encounters involving people with disabilities. Advocacy groups like Disability Rights Florida emphasize the need for better training for law enforcement and equitable rights access within the justice system for those with disabilities.

While the registry is a progressive step towards accommodating the needs of individuals with disabilities, its impact on changing law enforcement practices and ensuring safer interactions is yet to be fully evaluated.

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