© 2022 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

FDLE Seeks Funds to Battle Extremist Violence


Locating homegrown violent extremists and lone actors” before they attack is estimated to cost the Florida Department of Law Enforcement millions of dollars, which the agency wants lawmakers to start paying for parts of it next year.

FDLE is asking for $3.6 million for the “behavioral threat assessment,” which is backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and agency Commissioner Rick Swearingen – the latter appearing last month before the Senate Committee on Infrastructure and Security.

“If an act of violence is premeditated – meaning the assailant is taking specific, calculated steps to plan and prepare,” said Swearingen, “it means at least some of these steps are likely discoverable, thus reportable and hence, potentially preventable.”

Filed in the agency’s fiscal year 2021 budget request, the money would cover the cost of “cellular phone analytics” and eight full-time senior crime intelligence analysts. It would also provide a year’s worth of funding to run a new data analytics system, which would replace FDLE’s “antiquated” records system.

Total cost over a five-year period is placed at $24 million, but Swearingen claims behavioral threat assessment and management – B-TAM -- offers the best hope of preventing acts of targeted violence.

“Threat assessments require an evidence-based method of investigation to prevent violent acts, by responding to the threats and behavior of individuals,” Swearingen told the panel. “Threat assessment management means there needs to be accountability for follow-up [and] individual case plans. Otherwise, an assessment is useless.”

In little over three years, Florida has been home to two of the nation's deadliest shootings – the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where 49 people died, and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 were killed. Swearingen says some trends have been identified from those incidents, which are pretty consistent nationwide.

“One of the most consistent findings, is that there is no single demographic – or social-psycho profile – of the perpetrators,” said Swearingen. “What we know is behavior-based approach is more reliable; B-TAM protects civil rights and civil liberties, and it does not cast a wide net. Rather, if focuses on what people are doing; not what they look like or who they are.”

Violent acts, added the FDLE chief, can frequently be traced back to methodical planners.

“Studies also show targeted violence events are rarely sudden or spontaneous,” Swearingen said. “Active assailants typically experience multiple stressers in the year before the attack. They don’t snap – they decide. Most plan their attacks days, months, even years in advance.”

“Can we all agree that there really is no ‘silver bullet’ if you will, if you excuse the pun, to this?” asked Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon), who chairs the Infrastructure and Security panel.

“The best thing it sounds like, is we’re headed toward – from a law enforcement perspective – is this behavioral threat assessment management concept,” Lee said. “And that’s getting us out into ‘you see something, say something’ but maybe actually being able to monitor Internet activity and things like that for probable cause kind of an elevated behavior.”

Bans on certain firearms would not affect the number of guns already out there, contends FDLE’s Rick Swearingen. Research, he says, shows that the vast majority of the shooters legally purchased or possessed the gun used; or they took them from a family member’s home.

“Personally, I don’t care about those issues, as much as I care about how do we stop these [shootings] from happening,” said Swearingen. “And the way we do that is through proven studies. Let’s identify the behaviors of these people. And regardless of what weapon they choose; regardless of their ideology and regardless of where they want to carry this out, let’s stop them before they ever get to that point.”

FDLE’s proposal is expected to be taken up by lawmakers during the 2020 legislative session which starts in January. Meanwhile, another Senate panel is looking into issues related to white nationalism, and how to prevent mass violence in Florida.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.