Congratulations to the staff at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on winning its first ever Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
Awarded to the Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, FL, for its well documented investigation of off-duty police officers who recklessly speed and endanger the lives of citizens, leading to disciplinary action and other steps to curtail a deadly hazard.
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From the Sun-Sentinel:
The Sun Sentinel was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for public service journalism on Monday for its investigation of off-duty police officers endangering the lives of citizens by speeding.
The newspaper launched its three-month investigation after ... off-duty Miami police officer [Fausto Lopez] was pulled over by a Florida state trooper for driving 120 mph in the fall of 2011.
The resulting series, Above the Law: Speeding Cops, broke new ground in database journalism and had an immediate and lasting impact on the community.
Sun Sentinel investigative reporter Sally Kestin and database specialist John Maines, working with investigative team editor John Dahlburg, used data collected from SunPass toll booths to calculate the officers' speed.
The three-part series was published in February, revealing the shocking behavior of law enforcement officers behind the wheel. The reporters found nearly 800 officers who reached speeds of 90-130 mph, many of them while off duty. The accidents caused by officers driving at high speeds had caused at least 320 crashes since 2004, killing or maiming 21 people.
The project was led overall by Metro Editor Dana Banker, Associate Editor Willie Fernandez, and Sun Sentinel Editor Howard Saltz.
"This is such an exciting moment for our newsroom and it's a reflection of the kind of work that we want to be known for," Fernandez said.
The Sun Sentinel newsroom erupted in cheers Monday and toasted the Pulitzer-winning team with champagne.
"I'm just so proud of this team," Banker said. "It was a huge commitment: These reporters analyzed more than a million database records and drove more than 2,500 miles to accurately determine the speeds and distances involved. Their work made a difference — and that's what good local journalism is all about."
Their efforts were coupled with essential contributions from graphic artist Cindy Jones-Hulfachor, video reporter Ihosvani "Geo" Rodriguez, photographer Mike Stocker, database specialist Dana Williams, and copy editors Jeremy Lang and Kathy Laskowski.
"Before the series ran, cops around South Florida were notorious for speeding,'' said Maines. "We had all seen them zip by at breakneck speeds. After the Miami incident made headlines, Sally came up with the idea of using SunPass data."
The series - Above the Law: Speeding Cops