The Parkland school shooting was a terrible, heinous act by a person who, in my opinion, deserves the death penalty.
Coming as it did during the closing weeks of the 2018 legislative session, the Legislature was forced to address the issue in a fashion that is little more than window dressing.
Sadly, it won’t stop this from happening again because the solution didn’t focus enough attention on the crux of the problem.
This isn’t a gun issue despite what students, parents and others want to make it.
It has to do with the fact that our country has failed us because we won’t institutionalize people anymore, except for those who commit violent acts.
Mental Health is the issue that must be confronted if we’re going to try to stop this violence.
The Florida Legislature did do some things right: it created a “red flag” system that if properly operationalized, will help tremendously; it decided, upon the Governor’s recommendation, to harden schools, though enough money wasn’t appropriated; and it increased the use of school resource officers, which are part of the front-line defense of our young students.
Where the Legislature missed the boat is on mental health funding and the integration of the disparate databases that law enforcement, schools, behavioral healthcare providers, and the courts use daily.
The Florida Smart Justice Alliance, under our chair, Chief Chris Summers of the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, Law Enforcement Division, has created a small but well-connected task force that is working on this critically important issue.
First, we must acknowledge that we don’t expend enough state dollars to sufficiently attack the recurring and constant problem of mental illness.
Though Sen. Rene Garcia and Rep. Gayle Harrell championed “No Wrong Door” legislation in 2016, a major rewriting of the Baker Act for the first time in a generation, the Legislature has failed to properly fund it.
Without the necessary funds to manage the growing scope of the problem, to ensure adequate capacity to house these individuals temporarily or on a longer-term basis, and then understand better the need to coordinate psychotropic drugs and their unintended side effects, we’re never going to do anything more than scratch the surface of the problem.
We not only have to fund the system better and appropriately, we must build to capacity to address the number of people who will need help.
This means that Managing Entities, which oversee the behavioral healthcare system for the Department of Children and Families, will need more dollars for more staffing and case management, but it also means that Crisis stabilization units around the state will also need financial help.
Treatment and proper intervention must be the order of the day because without it, the system will fail, and people will continue to slip through the cracks.
We’re going to need physicians and pharmacists to better coordinate the many drugs these individuals will be prescribed, and the unintended side-effects must be closely monitored.
This probably means incorporating psychotropic drugs into the current electronic drug registry for medical marijuana and pain medications.
Many of the school/mass shooters have been individuals who have just stopped taking their meds or who have just started. Making sure these individuals stay medicated will be key.
Second, we need to encourage the private sector so that eventually all of the various IT silos of law enforcement, schools, behavioral healthcare providers, and the judiciary are integrated so when one part of the system identifies a person who is a threat to him- or herself, or more importantly to others, everyone who has the proper security clearance can get access to the available data.
Since all these entities contain confidential information in their data systems, with limited access, this seems to be an attainable goal.
That way, when a principal/teacher, law enforcement officer, healthcare provider or judge needs access to the status of an individual, all information should be readily available. Such access will enable the person of authority to make a better-informed decision with better outcomes.
The Legislature did one other thing of note. Lawmakers enabled the courts to adjudicate whether someone with a history or instance of mental illness can have his guns temporarily removed for safekeeping, and thankfully judges are already making these decisions which will help safeguard our citizenry.
No project such as this can be successful without longitudinal research to document its success and its failures. To do this from the outset will demonstrate that we’re serious about knowing what works.
Finally, the crux of most issues always comes down to money. There isn't any readily available funding source. But there is outside-of-the-box funding that we’ll be looking at that could make this pilot program operational.
Ultimately, we must understand that to solve this problem we have to appreciate what the real problem is, and it’s all about mental health and how key data will be made available to those who need it, when appropriate action must be taken.
Barney Bishop III is CEO of Florida Smart Justice Alliance, a law enforcement-centric, center-right advocate for criminal justice reform that always emphasizes public safety as Job #1. He can be reached at barney@SmartJusticeAlliance.org