Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition

Lawmakers seek to keep ‘our kids safe’

Officials try to shift focus of threat assessment center to school violence prevention

- By Anthony Man

A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers said Tuesday it is making another push for a law aimed at trying to stop future school shootings.

The proposed Eagles Act would expand the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center for a greater focus on school violence prevention.

It is named in honor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Eagles. The Parkland high school was the site of the Feb. 14, 2018, massacre in which 17 people were killed and 17 injured.

The lead House sponsors are U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Broward/Palm Beach county Democrat whose district includes Parkland, and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami-Dade/Collier/Hendry county Republican.

“The federal government has a role to play in school safety, and we should be leveraging our best resources to keeping our kids safe,” Deutch said in a statement. Diaz-Balart said the proposal would help communitie­s learn to “identify and respond to individual­s who may pose a threat to our safety.”

They and U.S. senators have tried in previous years, but haven’t been able to get the idea passed.

The Secret Service establishe­d the National Threat Assessment Center in 1998 to develop evidence-based indicators of various types of targeted violence, including school shootings.

The center developed a threat assessment model used by law enforcemen­t to identify potentiall­y violent individual­s, assess whether an individual poses an imminent threat and determine how to manage the threat. Among its findings are that most attackers exhibit indicators of pre-attack behavior.

Since 2002, the Secret Service has conducted training operations for more than 198,000 school administra­tors, teachers, counselors, mental health profession­als, school resource officers and others involved in public safety.

Tony Montalto, president of Stand with Parkland and father of Gina Montalto, who was killed in the Parkland massacre, said the threat assessment center “has been essential to thwarting mass shooters and targeted violence since it was created.”

“The Eagles Act is a critical expansion of the program that prioritize­s school safety and directs key funding to prevent the next mass school shooting,” Montalto said in a statement. “We need to be more proactive and less reactive. Our children’s lives are at stake.”

The legislatio­n would reauthoriz­e and expand the center. The national program would focus on school violence prevention, including expanding research and training on school violence and disseminat­ing informatio­n on prevention initiative­s.

The proposal also has bipartisan support in the Senate. U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, both Florida Republican­s, are among the sponsors.

“This month, we marked the three-year anniversar­y of the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and honored the 17 innocent lives lost that day,” Scott said in a statement. “The Eagles Act will help improve safety on school campuses.”

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