Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s proposed “violence prevention” unit, to prevent events like the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, got a thumbs-up from lawmakers but it’s giving others the creeps.
More than 200 people have e-mailed Gov. Rick Scott asking him to use his line-item veto on $1 million in start-up money for Bradshaw that the Legislature included in the state’s $74 billion budget.
“The Nazis would be proud of this program and it really scares me. There are to many problems that could arise. Bigger government and more programs is not going to result in less crime,” Delray Beach resident Jim Tingler wrote to Scott on May 3. “I, for one, am not willing to sacrifice my liberty for the promise of security.”
Scott hasn’t received the budget yet and has 15 days to act on it once he does. The governor hasn’t given any indication of whether he will use his red pen on Bradshaw’s “prevention intervention” unit or not.
A Palm Beach Post story about Bradshaw’s program published last week widely circulated on the Internet and sparked outrage over what many characterized as a “big brother” program.
Bradshaw wants to create a 24-hour hotline where neighbors and friends can anonymously report individuals they fear might be dangerous, with a 15-person team to assess whether the individuals need help. The sheriff says he believes his first-in-the-nation program can prevent tragedies like the mass shootings at Sandy Hook, Conn. and Aurora, Colo.
Critics just don’t get it, Bradshaw said Thursday.
“Most of the people that are writing the emails have no independent knowledge of what the entire program entails,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what issue that you bring forward…. You get a certain segment of people that are not going to like it and they’re going to write emails because they think it’s taking away some of their rights.”
Like Tingler, many of those who contacted Scott likened Bradshaw’s plan to tactics used by Nazis who encouraged neighbors to spy on and report their friends, neighbors and relatives, often with deadly results.
In the messages, civil libertarians and gun rights advocates expressed fear and anger about “speech police” that could lead to a government-sponsored round-up of guns, or worse.
Others took offense at Bradshaw’s defense of the program.
“We want people to call us if the guy down the street says he hates the government, hates the mayor and he’s gonna shoot him,” Bradshaw told The Palm Beach Post last week. “What does it hurt to have somebody knock on a door and ask, ‘Hey, is everything OK?’ ”
A message from Karin Monahan of Orange County asked Scott to “put the kibosh on Sheriff Bradshaw’s program of neighborhood snitching.” The concept “is so ‘1984’ that it’s creepy,” Monahan wrote.
“Speaking out against the government is something that has been done in this country since before it even was a country — I refer you to the Declaration of Independence for a prime example. Grumbling about government waste and over taxation is not the same as terrorism, by a long shot. This program is meant to chill certain types of political speech and has no place in American society. Please ensure this wrong and fundamentally un-American program is stopped. Thank you,” Monahan wrote on Sunday.
Bill Halligan of Ormand Beach called the idea scary.
“Any such ‘Monitor & Report’ program which encourages people to SPY ON family and friends in an effort to get reports of ‘Critical Thought & Speech’ to the government SERIOUSLY mirrors NAZI Policy during WW-II, and should absolutely TERRIFY those of us in this country who still BELIEVE in the US Constitution, and ALL of the Rights contained therein, INCLUDING Freedom of Speech,” Halligan wrote on Sunday.
Scott’s office said the governor is reviewing the item.
But it’s unclear whether Bradshaw’s plan will meet Scott’s criteria for his assured approval. In reviewing the two budgets since he took office in 2011, Scott generally has taken a harsh view of projects that did not have a statewide purpose.
In his veto letter explaining his line item accompanying the budget last year, Scott said he asked himself “Is this the proper role of state government? Should we spend taxpayer dollars for that purpose? And if so, what is the return on the investment?”
In his pitch for $3 million to the Legislature in March, Bradshaw played offense on his project, saying he hoped it could be a pilot program similar to how his gang prevention and pill mill units became models for statewide strike forces.
But he acknowledged that convincing Scott to fund his project could be an uphill battle because it’s a local program backed with state funds. Lawmakers who agreed to the $1 million to kick-start the program also expressed concern whether Bradshaw would be able to nail down future funding without the state’s help, the sheriff said.
“Whatever decision he makes, I’ll respect that. I’ll try to find the money in other places,” Bradshaw said. “It’s a valuable program. I know it will work. I know the concept is the right concept to get people the help they need.”