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Parkland commission urges boost in mental health funding

Posted at 4:27 PM, Nov 01, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A commission investigating the Parkland school shooting is calling for improved mental health services, including more funding, to help schoolchildren deal with the stresses in their lives — a strategy the commission hopes will help prevent more violence from erupting at other Florida campuses.

The commission released its second report to lawmakers Friday, 10 months after an initial report urged immediate improvements to school safety following killings of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year.

Lawmakers responded to the commission's first set of recommendations by enacting a package of school-safety measures, including raising the legal age for gun purchases, requiring armed security officers on every campus and adopting a "red flag" law.

"The needle has moved. We're in a better place than we were 20 months ago," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the commission, said in an interview. "But we're still not in the place where we want to be in many places in Florida, and there's more work to be done."

The 389-page document released Friday by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission advocates new laws that would allow authorities to act more quickly against threats of violence, including making it a felony to verbally threaten a mass shooting.

While the commission's first report, released in January, focused on the suspect, Nikolas Cruz, and some of the specifics that led to the massacre, this one provides a broader analysis of systemic issues that the commission wants addressed.

Key among them, according to the commission, is mental health. Among its findings: Florida's mental health system is inadequately funded.

The commission, noting Florida's rank among the lowest of any state in per-capita mental health funding, recommended that the Legislature authorize more spending on mental health programs. The commission, however, did not suggest a specific amount and instead recommended an assessment of how mental health resources are being deployed.

Gualtieri said the mishmash of mental health services, limited as they currently are, may sometimes prevent children with behavioral problems from getting the help they need.

The commission wants better coordination of services, including better information sharing, to help identify trouble before exploding into harmful situations.

The commission also wants to empower judges to intervene whenever they identify a child who might benefit from mental health treatment.

In his message prefacing the report, Gualtieri said complacency and noncompliance — even resistance to the new laws — undermine the work being done to make schools safer.

"Complacency is driven, at least in part, by the erroneous notion that a school shooting will not 'happen here'," he wrote.

"Everyone needs to proceed with a sense of urgency to make Florida's schools as safe as possible because there will be another K-12 active assailant attack in this country," Gualtieri said. "The only questions are when and where."