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Choose: A jail cell or the hurricane?

With the arrival of Hurricane Irma, some law enforcement officials are taking an unnecessarily brutal tack.

A sheriff in Winter Haven, Florida, views the storm as an opportunity to flush out criminals -- a kind of sting.

This is the tweet posted by the Polk County Sheriff's Office on Thursday:

"If you go to a shelter for #Irma and you have a warrant, we'll gladly escort you to the safe and secure shelter called the Polk County Jail."

The statement is not as nice as it appears. The sheriff is saying that he will arrest anyone at a storm shelter whose name appears on a warrant list. Police will set aside "Protect and Serve" long enough to lock up people taking refuge from the storm.

That leaves area people who have had a brush with the criminal justice system one of two choices: going to jail or taking their chances with a Category 5 tropical storm.

Everyone deserves to be safe

Historically, jail and penitentiary inmates have not gotten preferential treatment in disaster situations. During Katrina in 2005, there was an episode in which 600 prisoners at the Orleans Parish Prison compound stood for four days in water up to their chins before rescuers thought of them.

We would remind the sheriff that a warrant, whether it is an arrest or bench warrant, is not the same as a conviction, and we Americans still go by "innocent until proven guilty."

Maybe it was just a joke. We hope police in Winter Haven will not deprive innocent people of the right to take shelter against a violent storm.

Now is a time to save lives, not put them at risk.

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Canton, GA 30114

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