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 idea that we can and should keep people from committing crimes before they get around to it is part of 9/11’s legacy, and the Boston Marathon bombings are a reminder that we haven’t got the hang of it. And of course there are those sticky civil liberties issues:
“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?’…
“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.”
Good question, especially in a place like South Florida, where people are as a rule not notably friendly, polite, or what not. (There are exceptions.) How can you tell whether someone is approaching criminal activity or just being their usual mouthy self? And what about people who don’t give advance notice?
Bradshaw’s basic problem is that he’s in a region with little or no sense of community, and trying to throw money at the problem using the mental health community/industry isn’t going to fix that any time soon.