Most South Florida law enforcement agencies say they drill continually for mass shooting events, and if they haven't made it a regular practice, they're partnering with larger departments to prepare.
But Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said drills and SWAT team responses to active shooters “are all after the fact. We’re identifying people with a propensity to do these things.”
He said he is seeking $3 million from state legislators to fund a “Violence Prevention Unit” that would have an anonymous hotline and five teams --with two deputies and a mental health worker each -- to visit those who tipsters call about.
“Before these things happen, someone had warning signs, whether it was their family, co-workers or neighbors,” said Bradshaw, who said his idea was spurred by the shootings at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school in which 26 were killed. “The team will knock on the door and say, ‘What’s going on?’”
Bradshaw said with the new unit, the potentially violent person will become aware he is on law enforcement’s radar, can get mental health treatment, if needed, and officials will know if there is a criminal record or history of weapons offenses or illness.
“It’s not about arrests, it’s about prevention and intervention,” Bradshaw said. “Gun control ain’t gonna do it. The gun is just the instrument. You need to identify the people who may do it ahead of time.”
Bradshaw said his plan is not limited to mass shootings.
"Violence prevention covers everything across the board," Bradshaw said.
Gunmen have wreaked havoc elsewhere in Florida, including in Orlando, where authorities at the University of Central Florida said they believe a campus massacre was averted after a man living in a dorm killed himself on March 18.
That’s when James Seevakumaran pulled a fire alarm just after midnight that could have sent 500 students out into the open, police said. After pointing a rifle at a roommate who called 911, Seevakumaran shot himself in his room that contained a .22 caliber assault rifle, four handmade bombs; 1,000 bullets and a .45 handgun, officials said.
On April 3, Boca Raton Police say Shari Bellingham, 56, was shot and killed by her husband Scott Edgerton, 63, in Boca Raton at the CBIZ-MHM accounting firm on North Military Trail.
Because the carnage was limited to two people, it was not technically what cops call an active-shooter scenario, Boca Raton Police Officer Sandra Boonenberg said.
But it may have felt that way to some of Bellingham’s terrified colleagues who called police or fled the fifth floor office without their phones and took refuge next door at the Strikes at Boca bowling alley.
“They were assuming the worst, and that’s the best thing to do,” Boonenberg said. “Until you know otherwise, treat it as an active shooter and take cover in a secure area or run for safety if you can do so.”
Like other South Florida law enfocement agencies, Boca Raton Police say they're advising their community, including city businesses, movie theaters and Boca Raton Regional Hospital, on shooter safety plans.
“It’s been an ongoing thing,” Boonenberg said. “There have been so many instances throughout the country, it’s been brought to the attention of a lot of people.”
Strikes at Boca bowling alley manager Helen Ferreiro said of the CBIZ-MHM workers, “They were scared, and told us to call 911. I told people up front to lock all the doors.”
Despite seeing the panic experienced by the accounting firm’s employees, Ferreiro said she is not frightened enough to consider training for herself.
“It was a sad situation and an unusual circumstance,” Ferreiro said. “Police were here in under five minutes, and I was confident they were going to take control.”
Coral Springs Police rehearse responses to shooters in public and some private schools, faith-based locations, Coral Springs Medical Center and the Coral Square Mall.
“We have stepped up our training,” Coral Springs Police Lt. Joe McHugh said. “The reason is what we are seeing around the country. We have always trained for active shooters, but tactics are always changing. You can never train enough.”
Coral Springs cops are also training with Margate and Coconut Creek police departments and plan to have live joint drills like what is conducted at the mall.
In Hollywood, police said they’ve performed “lock down” drills in public and private schools with the city’s fire department and Broward Schools police since before the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., when 20 young children and six adults were murdered.
“The drills focus on critical incidents such as active shooters or intruders on campus,” said Sgt. Pablo Vanegas. “Most recently, we conducted department-wide active shooter training at South Broward High School during the spring break. Immediately after any such drill, we debrief with the school personnel to discuss areas where security improvements can be made.”
Vanegas called the rehearsals “essential, because during a critical incident you will automatically revert back to your training.”
To learn more about what the U.S. Department of Homeland Security advises for surviving mass shootings, go to: http://www.dhs.gov/active-shooter-preparedness and see "Run, Hide, Fight" on YouTube.
Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun