Front-line analysis  

Suppose the mother of a 22-year-old Boca Raton man called police, worried about violent, misogynistic videos her son had posted? Suppose she wanted the police department to find out whether the son was a threat to himself or others?

Chances are, the department would send out a team to interview the man. Perhaps the officers would sense that the politeness he showed them was contrived, and they would press him enough to get beneath that calm pose to see underneath it. Or perhaps they would conclude, as Santa Barbara (Calif.) County deputies did in the case of Elliot O. Rodger, that while such videos might reveal dangerous thoughts, he was unlikely to act on them.

With Rodger, of course, the deputies were wrong. Less than a month later, Rodger killed six people and wounded 16 others in a May 23 rampage that ended only when he killed himself. The Santa Barbara County sheriff claimed on CNN that Rodger had been able to “fly under the radar,” but he was wrong. Rodger had been on the radar, but the system hadn’t been able to recognize the threat that blip represented.

Well before Rodger’s rampage, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw had envisioned a new approach for law enforcement when responding to such calls. Bradshaw said in an interview that deputies and police officers “don’t know the questions to ask” during such encounters. “It really needs to be a forensic interview. You need to be able to draw out people.”

Last year, Bradshaw asked the Legislature for money to create teams of mental health professionals and deputies that would respond to such calls. Legislators approved $1 million for the program, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the money, saying the sheriff had the resources to start the program on his own.

Which is what Bradshaw is doing. His plan is to start in mid-July with a pair of two-person teams—a mental health counselor and a deputy. The deputies would be plainclothes, the cars unmarked.

“The deputy would be there for any action,” Bradshaw said. “The main participant is the mental health professional."

At first, the teams would operate only in the sheriff’s area of service: the unincorporated areas of the county and the cities that contract with the sheriff’s office for law enforcement.

Eventually, though, Bradshaw would like to make the teams available to cities with their own police departments. If that happens, Boca Raton Police Chief Dan Alexander said he would ask for the help.

“We have trained our officers in crisis management,” Alexander said in an interview, “and we are getting better.” But like Bradshaw and other police chiefs, Alexander knows that the deeper problem is the mental health system. “There’s not much of a commitment at the state level,” he says, correctly, “so law enforcement winds up dealing with the problem.” Indeed, the largest mental health “facility” in Palm Beach County is the jail.

And while Boca Raton might not have the violence of other cities, mental health issues don’t adhere to city lines. Rodger was from an affluent family in an affluent area. “This is not something where traditional arrests can solve the problem," Alexander said. Law enforcement agencies can use the Baker Act to commit someone involuntarily, with cause, but the average stay in Florida lasts less than five days. “There must be something behind the Baker Act,” Alexander said.

Bradshaw says the sheriff’s office got 3,500 calls last year related to possible mental health issues, which many times also can involve substance abuse. None may have represented a potential rampage like Rodger’s. But a mental health-focused response might have prevented deputies from, say, fatally shooting a man who lunged at them with a screwdriver. That happened two months ago in a gated community west of Boca Raton. Such cases also don’t observe security measures.

But even if a case like Rodger’s is rare, how frustrating it is that a parent alerted the system, the subject had made clear threats, yet investigators never looked at the videos that worried the mother or checked to see that the subject owned two guns. They also bought a story that obviously was bogus. Bradshaw and Alexander have the right attitude: As long as the state leaves it to law enforcement, law enforcement must think differently.

Taxing issues

Cities won’t approve their 2014-15 budgets until September. The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1. But it’s June, which means the budget work really gets going.

The new tax roll from Palm Beach County is basically set, so cities know with some certainty how much they will be getting from property taxes. Gov. Rick Scott has justsigned the state budget, but the cities already had a good idea of what they could expect from Tallahassee.

With that in mind, I asked the five members of the Boca Raton City Council if they expect the city’s tax rate of 3.42 percent to go up, go down or remain the same. Your Boca tax bill is the property tax rate multiplied by $1,000 of your property’s assessed value. That means you're taxed 3.42 percent for every $1,000 dollars your home is worth. If you home is assessed at $400,000, for example, you pay $1,368. (Boca Raton also levies a  0.3 percent tax for debt.)

Mayor Susan Haynie and Councilman Robert Weinroth predict that the tax rate will stay the same. Mike Mullagh also says that would be his guess at this point—“We don’t want to burden the taxpayers”—but he wants to see if some areas—such as parks improvement—might benefit from more spending. Constance Scott’s goal is to avoid an increase, and Scott Singer said City Manager Leif Ahnell told the council at its goal-setting session that he would presume no change in the rate.

Even if the rate doesn’t change, of course, many property owners still would pay more, since property values in Boca Raton increased roughly 5 percent. Save Our Homes would limit the increase to 3 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, but it is a myth that “holding the line on taxes” means the same bill. Cities also can raise fees, for everything from garbage service to fire-rescue. More on those fees in a future post.

Countdown to city manager vote

In Delray Beach, the city manager continues to be the main political story. On tonight’s agenda are three items related to the city’s CEO.

One item is a proposed one-month raise for Robert Barcinski, the former assistant city manager who became the acting manager May 14 when the city commission suspended Louie Chapman. A report by the county’s Office of Inspector General found that that Chapman had misled the commission about a purchase of trash bins, then misled investigators who asked about the purchase. Barcinski retires June 16, and for that fill-in month would get what Chapman makes: about $160,000. Barcinski’s salary would revert just before retirement to what he has been making, so he wouldn’t get a good-bye pension bump.

Another item is choosing an interim city manager for the remaining two months of Chapman’s suspension after Barcinski leaves. A search firm has produced three applicants who want the temp job. The best is clearly Howard Tipton, who retired this year as manager of Brevard County. He has been hired as the manager for St. Lucie County, but doesn’t start work until November.

The third item is the most important: a public hearing and first vote on a proposed change to the Delray Beach charter. It would allow the commission to fire the manager with a majority of three votes, rather than a supermajority of four.

Mayor Cary Glickstein and commissioners Jordana Jarjura and Shelly Petrolia voted to fire Chapman rather than suspend him, but Adam Frankel disagreed and Al Jacquet was absent. It takes just three votes, however, to put the charter change on the Aug. 26 state primary ballot. If the proposal passes tonight, it will need a second vote on June 17 to make the ballot deadline.

There has been no reasonable offer from Chapman’s attorney on severance if he resigns. The offer a month ago was two years, though the city is obligated to pay him just 20 weeks. There is no doubt that Glickstein, Jarjura and Petrolia will change their minds. If Al Jacquet won’t resolve the manager standoff, the voters will have to.

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

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About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.