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FDLE Seeks $3.6 Million For Project Designed To Detect 'Violent Extremists, Lone Actors'

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) -- A project designed to detect "homegrown violent extremists and lone actors" before they attack is estimated to cost the Florida Department of Law Enforcement millions of dollars --- and agency officials want lawmakers to start paying for parts of it next year.

The agency is asking the Legislature for $3.6 million to support multiple parts of its "behavioral threat assessment" tool, which has been extolled by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen.

The money would cover the cost of "cellular phone analytics" and eight full-time senior crime intelligence analysts and provide a year's worth of funding to run a new data analytics system that would eventually replace the department's "antiquated" records system, according to the agency's 2020-2021 budget request filed in September.

Such a system, broadly described by the agency as being able to gather and analyze the "growing amount of information available for investigation," is estimated to cost taxpayers $24 million over a five-year period.

The agency's pitch will be considered by lawmakers during the 2020 legislative session, which starts in January. The proposal comes at the same time a Senate panel is looking into issues related to white nationalism and how to prevent mass violence in Florida.

In little more than three years, the state has been home to two of the nation's deadliest shootings. In June 2016, 49 people and a gunman died at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. In 2018, 17 students and faculty members were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Together, the shootings also left 70 people injured.

"The nature of threats to Florida's domestic security and public safety has evolved over recent years. Identifying and disrupting illicit operations is a significant challenge to traditional law enforcement practices," according to the FDLE budget request.

Swearingen, the head of the agency, told a Senate panel last month that violent acts can frequently be traced back to methodical planners.

"They don't snap. They decide," he said. "Most plan their attacks, days, months, even years in advance."

The law enforcement official also brushed off links between mental-health issues and gun violence, saying the history of assailants' mental-health problems is "rarely the key" to violent acts.

In the budget request, officials noted DeSantis has asked the department to prioritize the development of the threat-assessment tool. The request says the model would increase support and collaboration with local law enforcement agencies and bolster "intelligence-led policing," which the governor has backed as a solution to impede further violence.

The $3.6 million proposal is part of the state agency's larger 2020-2021 budget request, which also asks for $1.5 million to expand the state Capitol police force.

Agency officials are requesting money to hire 10 more law-enforcement officers and to buy two explosive-detecting robots.

The primary responsibility of Capitol police officers is to protect the legislative and executive branches of government and people who visit the Tallahassee complex each day.

Another request made by the agency would bolster its investigative force. The department wants $8.1. million to fill 90 positions that would include a combination of special agents, crime-lab analysts, criminal-justice information analysts and other positions, officials say.

"The absence of these positions will result in fewer investigative cases worked, delays in updated and correcting criminal history information and a resurgence in forensic evidence backlogs," the budget request says.

(©2019 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's Ana Ceballos contributed to this report.)

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