A group of law enforcement officials from across the state is looking into putting prevention methods in place to avoid another mass school shooting.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says in his experience, almost anyone who’s been “Baker Acted” can get a gun. He says there aren’t a lot of disqualifiers from someone under the Baker Act, the state's law for taking those with mental health issues into custody.
“You can have somebody in the state of Florida today that has been Baker Acted 15 times in the last month, someone where law enforcement has been to their house 15 times in the last month for domestic related issues, someone who tells a cop last night, ‘I’m going to kill my mom,’” he said. “He can go down to a local gun store today and buy a gun. And, I heard a lot and saw a lot in the last week on social media, in the press, etc. that if this kid had been Baker Acted, that would have disqualified him. And, that’s wrong, that’s erroneous, and that’s false. And that needs to change, in my view.”
Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson is the President of the Florida Sheriffs Association. He says there needs to be a searchable database law enforcement across the state can use.
“The worst thing that can happen is a for a trooper to stop someone at the side of the road, and then a police officer who may not realize another jurisdiction has initiated this Baker Act and that these issues are in place,” said Adkinson. “We need to have that information readily available. There has to be database in which it can be collected in which the information is queryable. It’s not fair to the firearms dealer as well too to put them at risk without the ability find out whether or not that individual is not eligible to purchase a firearm.”
The sheriffs also talked about the need for enough school resources officers in each school around the state. That was actually passed in a bill later that day.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco says in his area, that’s not the case.
“So, in a perfect world, we would absolutely love to have more resource deputies in schools,” he said. “In Pasco County, there’s roughly 92 schools, including charters. We only have roughly 37 school resource deputies.”
Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley says it’s important to increase budget dollars for “Safe Schools” to help make sure there are enough school resource officers.
He says after what happened during last week’s shooting, he now has two officers in each school in his county. Ashley adds it’s based on the student population and geographical size of the area.
“The same as we do in our citizen to office ratio,” he said. “You know, how many officers or deputies do you need per average citizens? Well, the average in the country is nearly three deputies per thousand citizens. So, if I have a school that has 3,600 students, and I have one officer, then I am ¼ undermanned, if that. This was a 45-acre campus where this incident happened. I’m not sure the one manned officer even knew what was happening, because he was on the other side of the campus.”
But, what happens if that’s still not enough? Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd talked to the other sheriffs about his “Sentinel program. He says his “gamechanging” program allows him to designate and train certain individuals in active shooter scenarios, and allow them to carry a gun on the school premises in addition to the resource officer.
“The goal is it’s ideal to have school resource officers on campus,” said Judd. “We don’t want—as a matter of business—one deputy or one officer or one trooper to have to engage in a firefight against the bad guy. The goal is to have more resources than they have.”
And, he adds whatever is decided they have to make sure to allow counties to make their own decisions.
“Let’s make sure that we send a united message to the Governor and to the Legislature that we’ve identified the problems,” he added. “We know what the issues are. But, maybe, we prioritize and say, ‘here you go, and it’s all an option.’ If a school board wants to opt out, if a sheriff wants to opt out, [they can] because we can’t make one size that fits all, but we can do something.”
The group of law enforcement—which included police chiefs, sheriffs, and state agency heads—met as part of a series of workshops convened by Governor Rick Scott.
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