Have you heard of Florida's tough "10-20-Life" law where if you bring a gun to a crime, you get 10 years; shoot the gun, you get 20 years; shoot someone, you get a life sentence?
It is a good law and it's had an important role in driving down Florida's violent crime rate.
However, there are some exceptions to 10-20-Life that we, in law enforcement, wish did not exist. For example, if a criminal is convicted of using a gun, while committing a burglary of a conveyance, an aggravated assault or possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, the 10-year minimum is reduced to three years.
By the time these offenders leave the county jail and head to prison to serve 85 percent of their sentences, it isn't long before a convicted armed burglar is right back in our county. And what do you suppose he will be doing?
One of the things that really concerns us is that convicted felons, who carry a firearm, are excluded from the 10-year minimum.
If we really want to get serious in Florida about stamping out violent crime, we cannot go easy on violent convicted criminals, who carry firearms.
This year, with the help of State Attorney Norm Wolfinger, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott did something to address that.
House Bill No. 947 passed the House 116 to 0, and its companion, Senate Bill No. 1272, made it through the Florida Senate with a strong push from Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. It was signed into law by Gov. Scott with an effective date of July 1, 2012.
This change allows felons convicted of carrying a firearm to serve the 10-year minimum prison sentence if they had a previous conviction for a serious felony, in which they also possessed a gun.
It is a good start at targeting those most prone to commit violent acts in our communities.
Hopefully, it will also deter violence, as it will send a strong message to convicted felons that there is a good chance they will do 10 years if we can catch them with a gun; and we will be trying to do just that.
We plan on initiating an informational campaign in the jail, warning inmates about the new law and making them think twice about picking up a gun when they are released from jail.
Getting tough on violent criminals works. Florida's violent crime rate has been steadily declining for the past 16 years. The biggest reason for the decline occurred in 1995, when Florida adopted the 85-percent rule, which required inmates to serve 85 percent of their prison sentence.
That change, coupled with strong laws like 10-20-Life, are making a big difference. To illustrate that point, in 1986, Brevard County had 41 homicides; last year we had 15.
My time is nearing an end as your Sheriff. As we look back, one of our successes is the role we played in derailing a slew of legislative initiatives to release violent criminals from prison early.
Our next Sheriff will have to be just as vigilant, if not more so, as the threat of early prison release laws will never be over.
Although Florida's economy may be improving in some areas, we have more financial obstacles to overcome. We will have to be vigilant to assure that our state's leaders never again allow the early release of violent (criminals), as they did in the 1980s and early '90s.
As a result of the state's ridiculous early release laws 20 years ago, Florida's violent crime rate skyrocketed.
It was bad for tourism and was a blow to Florida's economy.
Worst of all, it was bad for the thousands of Florida residents who were needlessly victimized by criminals, who were released early from Florida's prisons.
We must never repeat the mistakes of the past.
Keeping dangerous criminals behind bars, so they are punished for their crimes and cannot create new victims, is a part of government's core mission.
While government frequently overextends itself in an attempt to be all things to all people, it sometimes forgets its primary purpose - to protect its citizens.
We salute Florida's governor, and the representatives and senators for working hard in 2012 and making the protection of Florida's citizens and visitors a priority.
Jack Parker is the sheriff of Brevard County.