Brilliant South Florida Sun Sentinel Investigation Wins Top Pulitzer Prize

by Categorized: Data, First Amendment, Law Enforcement, Legal Affairs, Media, Public Safety, Transparency/FOI Date:

In Feb. 2012, I singled out a “stunningly clever” series of stories in the South Florida Sun Sentinel that exposed dangerously reckless driving by hundreds of off-duty police officers across the state. I named it an investigative-reporting “best of the week.” Today, the Pulitzer Board declared it the best of the year.

The Sun Sentinel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for “Above the Law,” a three-day project meticulously reported by investigative reporter Sally Kestin and database editor John Maines. The project used data from toll transponders – like those used with the EZ-Pass system – to determine how fast off-duty officers were driving  when they were off the clock. (By analyzing how long it took for a vehicle to pass from one toll location to the next, Kestin and Maines could calculate the average speed each car was traveling.)

The paper found 800 officers from 12 police agencies routinely driving 90 to 130 mph on roads with a top speed limit of 70 mph. One officer routinely traveled 100 mph or more on his commute into work – until a state trooper pulled him over for going 120mph in a 65mph zone. It was that traffic stop that sparked the series.

This was not simply gotcha journalism. Florida officers have been involved in hundreds of accidents while off-duty, and the Sun Sentinel reported that 21 motorists have been maimed or killed by speeding cops in Florida since 2004.

The series prompted reforms that will make Florida’s roads safer. Now that’s public service.

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