FDLE seeks statewide anti-terrorism squads
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Intent on preventing another mass nightclub shooting or a repeat of incidents this past weekend in New York and New Jersey, Florida's top cop wants to bulk up the state's anti-terrorism efforts.
As state lawmakers face the prospect of a lean budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Tuesday rolled out a proposed 7 percent increase in spending, a $20 million hike, along with a desire to extend federal terrorism statutes to state law enforcement.
FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen told Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet members that legislative proposals from the agency include a measure to criminalize "certain terrorism-related activities" at the state level.
After the meeting, Swearingen said additional details about changes to state laws would be available as the legislation is drafted and advanced. The annual legislative session starts in March, with the fiscal 2017-2018 budget taking effect July 1.
"These laws will give the state the same authority that currently only federal agencies can pursue," he said.
About $6 million of the requested funding hike would cover the cost of seven anti-terrorism squads, including an agent-in-charge, 37 specialists and eight analysts.
One of the squads would be assigned to work with federal agencies in Miami, Swearingen said after the presentation.
"I attended funerals with the governor," Swearingen said in recalling the aftermath of the June mass murder inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. "I went to the morgue. We can never let that happen again here in Florida. … I think these positions will help us to do that."
The proposal was welcomed by Scott and Cabinet members.
"I am pleased to see you taking elements of anti-terrorism legislation that has historically been left to federal statute and rolling it into state (law)," Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said. "I'm a little surprised it hadn't already been done."
Scott, who abstained from a vote to accept the agency's budget proposal, will use the input to help craft his own budget proposal for lawmakers to consider in the 2017 session. FDLE's budget this year totals $293 million.
After the meeting, Scott said the state needs to be ready to spend more to combat terrorism.
"We know what happened in Pulse, where 49 individuals lost their lives and then we had all those people injured," Scott said. "So we all have to understand that we live in a time where people want to do harm to our country."
In addition to the funding request, of which about $9.5 million would come from trust funds rather than the general revenue, Swearingen said the agency is reinvigorating the "See something, say something" program. He pointed to this weekend's bomb-related incidents in New York and New Jersey.
"The incidents in New York and New Jersey, had it not been for someone calling in a suspicious item, those bombs would have gone off during the race, which would have been similar to the Boston Marathon," Swearingen said. "The same when he (the suspect) was captured. Someone called it in."
A single suspect has reportedly been arrested in the New Jersey and New York incidents.
One of the pipe bombs tied to the suspect went off without causing injuries before runners were to participate in a charity 5K race in Seaside Park, N.J.
News Service of Florida