Citing the killings at Pulse night club in Orlando last summer and the Fort Lauderdale airport shootings earlier this year, the leader of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement called on budget writers in the Legislature on Wednesday morning to give him the authority to hire 46 new counter terrorism experts.
“We know that terrorists are here, either plotting against Florida or using our state as a location to train, raise money and plan attacks in other areas of the country,” FDLE commissioner Richard Swearingen told a Senate committee.
Swearingen said FDLE does not currently possess sufficient resources to dedicate adequate personnel to fighting terrorism and needs the $6.4 million to fix that.
“What happened in Orlando on June 12, 2016 shook us all,” Swearingen told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. “But it did not break us. And it convinced all of us in public safety that we can and we must do more to protect our state.”
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Later Swearingen cited the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport as proof of increasing threats in Florida.
He stopped short of saying either incident could have been prevented had he had the 46 hires, but said Florida cannot leave all of the work to the federal government.The federal government doesn’t have the resources or ability to do all of the work on their own, he added, and needs state and local law enforcement to do more.
“This threat is so prolific that they don’t have the resources to fully investigate every instance,” Swearingen said.
If that weren’t ominous enough, Swearingen reminded the Senate that the terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. had numerous ties to Florida. Eight of the 19 attackers had Florida drivers licenses and the majority had flight training in Florida.
“We should never forget the connection so many of these terrorists had to Florida,” he said.
Swearingen noted that the terrorists were not impeded at all by any government action, a point made by the 9/11 Commission.
Swearingen’s plea is early in the budget process but Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, already sounded like he is on board. He said because the funding would come from dedicated trust funds and not the state’s general revenue it will be “relatively easy” to cover the $6.4 million.
Gov. Rick Scott pointed to the counter terrorism funding as a top priority in his annual State of the State Address to the Florida Legislature on Tuesday.