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Law Enforcement Agencies Praise Gov. Scott's Decision To Fund Counterterrorism Efforts

MGN Online

Last year’s Orlando attack—the worst mass shooting in modern American history—is prompting Governor Rick Scott to put millions of dollars in his proposed budget toward counterterrorism and intelligence efforts in Florida. Law enforcement agencies around the state are praising Scott’s decision.

The actions taken by various law enforcement agencies responding to the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando led Governor Scott last month to give pay raises to 4,000 law enforcement officers.

“Just a few weeks ago, I announced that I would propose a five percent pay raise for all sworn state law enforcement officers in my 2017-2018 budget as a thank you for their service and dedication to public safety,” said Scott, during his Wednesday stop in Orlando.

Building on that announcement, Scott now wants to put more funding toward the state’s counterterrorism operations.

During the attack that left 49 people dead and more than 50 injured, the shooter—Omar Mateen—had pledged allegiance to ISIS. And, even years before the massacre, he had been investigated by the FBI for links to terrorism.

“My daughter is about the same age as a lot of the individuals who died that night,” Scott said, later speaking to reporters. “It was attack on our gay community, our Hispanic community, but it really was an attack on all of us. You know, a terrorist attack can happen anywhere. So, it’s important to me as I know it’s important to everyone in law enforcement that we do everything we can to prevent another terrorist attack. That’s why in this year’s budget, I’m going to propose $5.8 million so that we have 46 agents focused on counterterrorism and intelligence. They’ll be around the state.”

The money for the agents is through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. And, its Commissioner Rick Swearingen says he’s grateful.

“I’d just like to say thank you to the Governor,” he said. “These positions are critical to keeping Florida safe. If you listen to Director [James] Comey of the FBI, they do a great job. But, Director Comey has said the federal government cannot do this on their own. So, it has to be a collaborative effort.”

Swearingen says each agent will have a role to play.

“So, the positions we’re seeking—38 of those will be special agent positions, one will be a special agent supervisor, and the other eight will be crime intelligence analyst positions,” he added. “Those positions will allow me to be assign an agent to every Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF] here in the state. Miami has nine Joint Terrorism Task Forces alone. The FBI has nine in Miami alone. Two in some of the other regions, but it will give me the ability to put an agent on every JTTF in the state. The others, it will be a mixed role of gathering intelligence on some of these folks and working operational cases, once they’re identified.”

So, why are these positions so critical?

“We do have resources currently,” continued Swearingen. “However, we don’t have enough. I typically have to pull resources now from some other—whether they’re working economic crime or drugs or whatever—I typically have to pull folks away from another investigative mission. This will allow me to have the ability to have those folks solely focused on terrorism.”

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings—who is also the head of the Florida Sheriffs Association—says he too is on board with the Governor’s plan to give FDLE the analytical resources to help combat terrorism.

“As a profession, we’re going to have to enhance our capabilities to gather criminal intelligence information about individuals involved in subversive organizations, who intend to invoke violence on Floridians,” said Demings. “Our state is growing, our tourism is vibrant, and all of that will create additional challenges for us as a state, moving forward. And, I believe especially with the incidents here in Orlando this Summer, we are going to have to continue being vigilant regarding our counterterrorism efforts.”

The Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida League of Cities also applauded the Governor’s decision. So did House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, who called it a “critical investment.” Still, she says she hopes it will be part of larger conversation to pass meaningful reforms to keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous criminals and the mentally ill who seek to commit violence against Floridians.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.