Florida Sheriff wants you to spy on your neighbor

The Palm Beach Post reports. “Florida House and Senate budget leaders have awarded Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw $1 million for a new violence prevention unit aimed at preventing tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., from occurring on his turf.”

The only problem is Sheriff Bradshaw wants “local citizens to report their neighbors, friends or family members if they fear they could harm themselves or others.”

This goes well beyond reporting criminal activity and has civil rights activists up in arms.

According to Dara Kam and Stacy Singer from The Palm Beach Post:

Mental health advocates, however, worry about a potential new source of stigma, and the potential for erosion of the civil rights of people with mental illnesses.

“How are they possibly going to watch everybody who makes a comment like that? It’s subjective,” said Liz Downey, executive director of the Palm Beach County branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “We don’t want to take away people’s civil liberties just because people aren’t behaving the way we think they should be.”

Bradshaw acknowledged the risk that anyone in a messy divorce or in a dispute with a neighbor could abuse the hotline. But, he said, he’s confident that his trained professionals will know how to sort out fact from fiction.

“We know how to sift through frivolous complaints,” he said.

The proposal still needs the blessing of Gov. Rick Scott, who has line-item veto authority.

Ann Berner, CEO of the Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network, which manages mental health care payments for the state warned, “To be successful, however, there will have to be close coordination with the mental health providers, she said. For example, the county already pays for mobile crisis response teams at two nonprofit mental health providers, a service that includes a 24-hour crisis call center. They, too, are trained to de-escalate conflicts and refer troubled people to care. Which ones will respond when there’s a call from a school or a home? That will have to be clarified.”

“Also, after troubled people are identified by Bradshaw’s teams, then what? Who will pay for their care? The state? Medicaid? The county?” ask Kam and Singer. I would add to this list: Who is liable for false reports or claims? What happens if a citizen is injured during a false report? What happens to a person who files a false report.

In 2002 there was a movie starring Tom Cruise called Minority Report. The idea of “pre-crime” detection did not work out well there.

Police departments worldwide have seen the 911 calling system misused. The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing (CPOP) has looked at 911 call misuse and abuse.

According to the CPOP website “911 misuse and abuse is divided into two categories: unintentional and intentional calls.” For example there is a serious problem with phantom 911 calls. “The National Emergency Number Association reports that phantom wireless calls account for between 25 and 70 percent of all 911 calls in some U.S. communities. The California Highway Patrol (currently the handler of nearly all California wireless 911 calls) estimates that between 1.8 million and 3.6 million of the 6 million wireless 911 calls it receives annually are phantom. U.K. police estimate they receive 11,000 phantom wireless calls per day to their 999 emergency number. The wide data variations highlight the need for further research to pinpoint the scale of the problem,” the CPOP report notes.

Will this open the floodgates for false calls?