TREASURE ISLAND, Fla. — A frustrated local police chief says he can't arrest certain people for lewd and lascivious acts. So now, he's taking his complaints to lawmakers.
Treasure Island Police gave us two recent examples of people they say couldn't be locked up. One is Cyrus Carter and the other Joshua Banks. They were both charged with lewd and lascivious acts in front of someone over the age of 16. But they weren't jailed for it under state law.
Just on Wednesday, 23-year-old Joshua Banks was arrested after police say he followed a 17-year-old in his car. When he asked her for help, she ignored him. That's when investigators say he got out of his car and exposed himself. The teen ran away. So did Banks but officers found him and charged him with attempted kidnapping and lewd and lascivious exhibition.
"It's pretty creepy to have somebody in your neighborhood accosting and flashing young girls," said neighbor John Smith. His surveillance footage was collected as evidence in the case against Banks.
Banks only went to jail because of an attempted kidnapping charge and not for exposing himself.
"Reasonable people expect something to be done," said Lieutenant Rich Nestor, "This is not an accepted norm for society and when someone is doing that, you would think it would immediately be an arrestable offense."
But lewd and lascivious acts in front of someone 17 or older is not an arrestable crime. Instead Lt. Nestor says it's a misdemeanor that never turns into a felony regardless of how many times someone does it.
In the case of Cyrus Carter, he didn't go to jail until his fourth offense, because the victims were as young as seven. Lt. Nestor says you can spend more days in jail for repeated shoplifting than you ever could for repeated lewd and lascivious exhibition. For the latter, the number of possible days in jail is zero, the way the Florida statute is written currently.
"The behavior is just not acceptable and to watch them walk away is disheartening" said Lt. Nestor.
But Chief Armand Bourdreau plans to pressure lawmakers to change it. He wants this crime to be an arrestable misdemeanor and for suspects to end up on the sex offender registry. Plus, a felony for repeat offenders.
"That is absolutely wrong," said Smith "They need to change the laws because in my opinion that needs to be a felony."
Lt. Nestor says an arrest would also give the victim more faith in the justice system.
"They are in disbelief that you can't make an arrest at the time so sometimes they just believe that you are not doing what you are supposed to do," he said.
But what about the impact on the prison system? It's already overcrowded and more inmates mean more taxpayer money. A spokesman for TaxWatch of Florida says elected officials need to consider changing the law carefully.
"The consideration needs to be on the cost and the benefit. If law enforcement and lawmakers feel increasing the penalty will reduce the behavior, then it's worthwhile for taxpayers to invest in any potential added cost," said director of communications Robert Weissert.
Chief Bourdreau says he will address lawmakers during the next legislative session.