With Hurricane Irma posing an immediate and catastrophic danger to Florida, you’d think local law enforcement would be focused on saving lives and preparing for the worst. But you’re not the Polk County Sheriff’s office, who made it clear on Wednesday that their priority seems to be spooking people from even showing up at emergency shelters in the first place.
Because nothing says “save yourself from this oncoming natural disaster!” quite like announcing that you’ll have police officers running background checks on anyone trying to find refuge from the storm.
And sure, Sheriff Grady Judd insisted that this was all because of “sexual offenders and predators,” but the broader chilling effect for anyone who thinks they might have reason to be locked up (say, for example, the 800,000 people notified yesterday that the program shielding them from deportation was about to be pulled out from beneath their feet) could very well prompt that person to stay home and try to ride out Irma on their own—and get themselves killed in the process.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Polk County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Carrie Horstman insisted that the tweets were meant as a warning to help save lives, and not deter people from actively seeking shelter.
“I think it is much safer to be in our jail than to expose yourself to a Category 5 storm,” Horstman said. “You are using the phrase, ‘people who are scared to go to jail.’ If you have a warrant, legally you should be in jail. You should turn yourself in and be safe in our jail rather than risk your life waiting out a storm.”
Whether or not the Polk County Sheriff’s Office actually nabs themselves some bad guys during the storm remains to be seen. As does whether or not there’ll be a Polk County left when Irma is done with it.