Here we go again. Via Drudge comes this report from the Palm Beach Post. I have to tell you, I’m embarassed to even think about this one and the places this has the potential to take us. The Florida State Legislature just gave Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw a mil in ca$h to assemble a “violence prevention” unit, designed to respond with mental health intervention if a neighbor gets pissed off at the government, at his ex-wife, or whoever – and speaks his mind. Yep. This is supposed to prevent mass shootings and bombings. I’m not kidding you here.
According to the plan, if someone calls in a complaint, Sheriff Bradshaw’s team will show up, knock on the door and ask if everything’s okay. Now, I can guarantee you from my 20 years in law enforcement they’ll do more than that. They’ll want to come inside and ask some questions – like, do you own any firearms? So, what if they don’t like the answers to the shrinks’ in-home interview questions. What if the pissed off subject of the “intervention” is less than forthcoming with what’s on his mind – such as, why did my ex-wife do this to me and my divorce is really none of your business? Are the team members going to summarily take his firearms? Or will they take him into custody on a 72 hour mental health hold, costing him his job when he doesn’t show up for work the next day? You get the idea. Here it is:
Florida House and Senate budget leaders have awarded Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw $1 million for a new violence prevention unit aimed at preventing tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., from occurring on his turf.
Bradshaw plans to use the extra $1 million to launch “prevention intervention” units featuring specially trained deputies, mental health professionals and caseworkers. The teams will respond to citizen phone calls to a 24-hour hotline with a knock on the door and a referral to services, if needed.
The goal will be avoiding crime — and making sure law enforcement knows about potential powder kegs before tragedies occur, Bradshaw said. But the earmark, which is a one-time-only funding provision, provoked a debate Monday among mental health advocates and providers about the balance between civil liberties, privacy and protecting the public.
Bradshaw said his proposal is a first-of-its-kind in the nation, and he hopes it will become a model for the rest of the state like his gang prevention and pill-mill units.
Yep. First of its kind, but not the last of its kind. I guarantee that. Sheriff Ric is gonna set a precedent that the gun-grabbers will love.
“Every single incident, whether it’s Newtown, that movie theater, or the guy who spouts off at work and then goes home and kills his wife and two kids — in every single case, there were people who said they knew ahead of time that there was a problem,” Bradshaw said. “If the neighbor of the mom in Newtown had called somebody, this might have saved 25 kids’ lives.”
Yes. If someone (like the Newtown shooter’s mother, from whom he stole her legally purchased firearms) had called the cops beforehand, maybe it would have saved lives. And maybe that call wouldn’t have stopped him. Or maybe if some of the teachers had been allowed to carry concealed weapons, the shooter could have been stopped in that “gun free” zone. But no one called. And even the creation of Sheriff Ric’s new unit provides no guarantee that someone will call.
Bradshaw is readying a hotline and is planning public service announcements to encourage local citizens to report their neighbors, friends or family members if they fear they could harm themselves or others.
Oh, my God. Heinrich Himmler would have loved to have lived long enough to see this happen in The United States. How’s this sound? “My ex-husband just called me on the phone. He was yelling at me because I got custody of the kids. He told me he hates me and he’s really angry and I’m really really afraid he’s going to do something terrible. Oh, and he’s got a gun in the house.”
The goal won’t be to arrest troubled people but to get them help before there’s violence, Bradshaw said. As a side benefit, law enforcement will have needed information to keep a close eye on things.
Of course. Wonder if “getting help” includes incarceration? Gotta love that “close eye”, too.
“We want people to call us if the guy down the street says he hates the government, hates the mayor and he’s gonna shoot him,” Bradshaw said. “What does it hurt to have somebody knock on a door and ask, ‘Hey, is everything OK?’ ”
That is a stupid questtion. If the guy down the street says he’s going to shoot the mayor, and there’s a state law which makes uttering that kind of threat a crime (and there should be such a law), he should be arrested for threatening to kill a public official.
That’s enough for Senate budget chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who helped push through the funding last weekend.
He said he met with Bradshaw about the program and “got assurances from the sheriff that this is going to be done in a way that respects people’s autonomy and privacy, and that he makes sure to protect against people making false claims.”
Assurances? Balderdash. People’s lives will be ruined by misuse of this 24 hour hot line. What’s the problem with the current 911 line? There is no way for a dispatcher to sort out a valid complaint from a vindictive complaint by telephone. The cops already have to respond to every call for service and make a decision about what to do.
Mental health advocates, however, worry about a potential new source of stigma, and the potential for erosion of the civil rights of people with mental illnesses.
And I think they’re right to express that worry – not only for what can happen to people with genuine mental illnesses. I gurarantee you that any information given to this mental health unit is going to go into a police data base that’s available to the public through the Freedom of Information Act.
“How are they possibly going to watch everybody who makes a comment like that? It’s subjective,” said Liz Downey, executive director of the Palm Beach County branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “We don’t want to take away people’s civil liberties just because people aren’t behaving the way we think they should be.”
Bravo. But this particular sheriff and the FL state legislature are apparently very interested in taking away civil liberties.
Bradshaw acknowledged the risk that anyone in a messy divorce or in a dispute with a neighbor could abuse the hotline. But, he said, he’s confident that his trained professionals will know how to sort out fact from fiction.
“We know how to sift through frivolous complaints,” he said.
Really? I was in law enforcement for a long time and I wouldn’t guarantee that. In this political atmosphere, are we really to believe that a government agency is going to poo-pooh a complaint and not launch an investigation?
The proposal still needs the blessing of Gov. Rick Scott, who has line-item veto authority.
But if it goes forward, Palm Beach County’s already stretched mental health and substance abuse providers could find themselves even busier. There is no ready source of funds once the $1 million runs its course, as there hasn’t been an increase to community mental health funding in many years.
“Our community agencies throughout the state don’t have the funds to meet the needs they have currently,” said Bob Sharpe, CEO of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health. “It sounds like it could work, but with no new funding we’d have to find it within existing resources.”
If Bradshaw’s teams can keep people out of crisis units and promote early intervention, that has the potential to save money, said Ann Berner, CEO of the Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network, which manages mental health care payments for the state.
To be successful, however, there will have to be close coordination with the mental health providers, she said. For example, the county already pays for mobile crisis response teams at two nonprofit mental health providers, a service that includes a 24-hour crisis call center. They, too, are trained to de-escalate conflicts and refer troubled people to care. Which ones will respond when there’s a call from a school or a home? That will have to be clarified.
Also, after troubled people are identified by Bradshaw’s teams, then what? Who will pay for their care? The state? Medicaid? The county? The Palm Beach County Public Defender has a good program to ensure qualified people apply for the Social Security and Medicaid benefits they may need, she said. Some high-level conversations have started, but more are needed, Berner added.
Bigger jail? Newer jail? More bedspace to hold the incarcerees?
“I think that would be an area we really need to collaborate on, and soon,” she said.
The $1 million Bradshaw won represents a third of what he had sought from the Legislature, but it’s a 10-fold bump from what was originally earmarked before House and Senate budget leaders finalized the state’s $74 billion budget over the weekend.
Think 1 million dollars will be enough? Don’t make me laugh.