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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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