Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw asks Legislature for $3 million for violence prevention unitby Dara Kam | March 20th, 2013
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw made a $3 million pitch for a violence prevention unit and hotline he believes could help avert tragedies like Sandy Hook and Aurora by identifying potentially violent citizens before they act out.
Bradshaw needs the money for a 15-person “prevention intervention” unit, including five deputies, five mental health professionals and five caseworkers and to fund a 24-hour hotline where citizens can report neighbors, friends or family members they fear may harm themselves or others. Bradshaw said his office can identify whether the person or the residence has a history of violence and wants to be able to send “low-key” teams out to determine if they need help.
“At least we can put this person on our radar screen,” Bradshaw said. “It’s not about arrest. We cannot arrest our way out of this. This is about prevention intervention.”
At least one committee member expressed concern about attaching a mental health stigma to individuals and about ensuring that, once identified, the individuals get follow-up care. The sheriff said local mental health agencies support his proposal. But the majority of the panel, including Palm Beach County Sens. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth and Joseph Abruzzo of Wellington, praised Bradshaw.
Bradshaw pointed to several incidents in Palm Beach County he said may have been averted if his teams had been in place.
“A young man stabbed his mother to death. Three days before that, the deputies had been to that house. But the kid knew enough to say the right things…the deputies didn’t have enough to Baker Act him.
If that team of professionals had gone there with him, he couldn’t have talked long enough to talk his way out of it. We had a guy that guy fired from work, went home, killed his live-in boyfriend, shot himself. Two days before that, his coworkers knew that he’d bought a gun and was angry. If they’d had this system to call, we could have gone to that house, talked to that person and maybe we would have stopped that,” he said. “There’s all these people in the community that know things are going on. We’ve got to give them an avenue to get to us and feel comfortable about the fact that we’re going there to help these people.”
Bradshaw said he hopes his program will become a model for the state as did his gang prevention and pill mill units.
“The emphasis is to prevent these things from happening so I don’t have somebody go to a school and kill 25 people, I don’t have somebody go back to their workplace and shoot everybody there or I don’t have something happen that almost happened at the University of Central Florida,” he said. “The information is out there. This will work…This is a first of its kind. And I believe we have an opportunity here to make a difference in preventing violence.”
But committee Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, told Bradshaw that he supports his idea but made no promises about funding it.
“The purpose, as I expressed it, was to get this conversation started. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to fund this in this year’s budget,” Bradley said. “But because this is such an issue that is on the forefront of our citizens’ minds, on our minds, I think it’s imiportant that this committee address this issue.”
Bradshaw said later he intends to get the program off the ground with or without the Legislature’s help.
“We ask for the best, and if it’s less than that then we’ll scale it down. Instead of having it 24 hours a day, maybe we’ll have it 12 hours a day and they would be on call,” he said. “I’m pretty hopeful that I’m going to get some assistance. If it doesn’t work here, then we’ll try other sources. But I’m not going to give up.”