(WSVN) - A 7News investigation is driving change in Florida. We exposed retired police cars still on the road with official markings still visible. Now, lawmakers have taken action. The Nightteam’s Brian Entin has tonight’s special assignment report: Misleading Markings.
Paul Billardello first emailed us about an issue he thought needed investigating.
Two years later, he could not have imagined his email’s subject line — “This warrants attention” — would end up getting the attention of state lawmakers.
Paul Billardello, concerned about retired police cars: “My friend Larry looks at me, and he goes, ‘Well, you know what? That just goes to show you one person can make a difference,’ and I was like, ‘That’s kind of true, you know?'”
What upset Paul was a car he spotted on the road.
He says at first glance, it looked like a police car.
Paul Billardello: “This is a BSO car, but I said, ‘That’s not a BSO guy driving it because it had a regular plate on it.'”
And this wasn’t a one-time sighting.
Paul sent us this picture of a van on I-95.
It says “Traffic Homicide Investigation” on the side but has a business sign on the back.
Paul Billardello: “I’m thinking, ‘That’s bad karma to be driving around in a vehicle like that.'”
It’s not illegal to own retired police cars in Florida, but the official markings must be removed.
As 7News first revealed last year, state law does not say who is responsible for their removal.
Police agencies, cities or counties usually do it, but some old cop cars are slipping through the cracks.
Brian Entin, Nov. 2019: “Why do you have this car with the lights and State of Florida?”
Brian Entin: “Are you law enforcement?”
Man: “Security, security guard.”
This black-and-white Crown Vic driven by a private security guard still had “State of Florida” and “Emergency call 911” markings on the side.
Brian Entin: “Would you think that was a police officer?”
Man in shopping center: “Yeah, at first glance, yeah, yeah. I would definitely think.”
State Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami: “It was a loophole in the law, and we have fixed that loophole.”
State Sen. Annette Taddeo saw our story and sponsored a bill requiring “decals, stickers, distinctive paint schemes, or other markings attached or applied to a police vehicle” be removed from cars prior to their sale.
Law enforcement agencies and auction companies will be responsible for making sure it gets done.
State Sen. Annette Taddeo: “No mark left, not even a shadow that it says, ‘Police or 911 or emergency vehicle.’ Any of those markings have to be completely removed.”
State Sen. Annette Taddeo (in committee): “So this is really a safety issue, this bill.”
The legislation sailed through three committees and 155 state lawmakers ultimately voted for it.
None voted against it.
State Sen. Annette Taddeo: “We want to make sure that when people are being stopped by any car that has markings or any lights come on that you know it’s a real police officer.”
In Florida, between 2014 and 2018, there were 489 arrests for impersonating an officer.
Last month, we saw a worst-case scenario unfold in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Authorities say a man disguised as a police officer carried out a mass shooting — at one point using a fake police cruiser to pull over and kill random drivers.
State Sen. Annette Taddeo: “Very bad scenario, and I think that it proves that what some may think, ‘Oh, what is the big deal about this law?’ It actually can save lives.”
The legislation makes an exception for collectors of vintage police cars.
If Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the bill, it will become law on July 1.
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