A year after the Pulse nightclub shooting jolted Central Florida, law enforcement officers from across the state are gathering this week to strengthen counter-terrorism strategies aimed at preventing a repeat.
- Summit held in Tallahassee
- Rep. Val Demings, D-Orlando, pushing for new federal grant program
- Central Florida leaders concerned due to city's heightened appeal as a target
At a summit being held at the Florida Public Safety Institute near Tallahassee, the officials are discussing how to increase cross-agency intelligence sharing, a mission that could be aided by the Florida Legislature's recent approval of $5.8 million to create regional counter-terrorism squads under the direction of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
But the effort is being complicated by an erosion of federal assistance. Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, who currently serves as president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, is bemoaning Washington's decision to scale back a program his agency had been taking advantage of since 2004.
"We're still lobbying the federal government to increase the Urban Area Security Initiative funding for Florida," Demings said. "There's a deficit there. There's certainly a deficit in Central Florida. Once we were receiving funding; we no longer receive the funding."
Demings' wife, Rep. Val Demings, D-Orlando, is pushing for a new federal grant program to allow Orlando and similar cities to sustain counter-terrorism training and equipment. The program would be part of HR 2825, the Dept. of Homeland Security Authorization Act of 2017.
Central Florida leaders have been particularly concerned about strengthening the state's counter-terrorism capabilities. Their region draws the majority of Florida's 100 million-plus annual visitors, which in turn has heightened its appeal as a potential target.
"This guy had targeted, or was looking at, Disney," FL Sen. Victor Torres (D-Kissimmee) said of Pulse gunman Omar Mateen. "Imagine the tragedy -- I just can't believe it -- but it's sad what happened, but we need to be on alert all the time."
Indeed, Wednesday's session convened just hours after a gunman opened fire at a Congressional baseball game practice session near Washington, D.C.
"It wasn't surprising because of the tone and the times that we're living in," the sheriff said. "As Americans, we cannot allow terror subjects to defeat us and to take away our will to live and to enjoy life, but by the same token, we do have to take some reasonable precautions."