Hillsborough Commissioners approve creating task force on violence prevention

Commissioner Beckner said traditionally, law enforcement agencies have tackled the issue of violence. But he said that leaves out other groups, as well as issues like mental health and community involvement. He said that the problem needs to be addressed as a public health crisis.

The nine-member leadership council will include representatives from the county's law enforcement department, school board, and the mayors of Hillsborough's three cities (Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace). There will also be a 17-member steering committee and eight subcommittees with nine members each.

The Prevention Institute comes strongly recommended, as they are currently working (and have worked) with some of the nation's biggest communities — like New Orleans, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Denver, Chicago and Boston — in addressing violence. Annie Lyles, program manager for the group, appeared via Skype to discuss how The Prevention Institute works. She said they begin by doing a lot of listening to local stakeholders to try to understand the facts on the ground.

Although local law enforcement in Tampa and to a lesser extent, Hillsborough County, constantly boasts about how crime rates have dropped dramatically throughout the past decade (as have such statistics nationally), Commissioner Victor Crist wasn't buying it.

Crist, who served for years as chairman of the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee in the State Legislature, said that there's limited value in reported statistics and that crime is still prevalent, particularly around Temple Terrace. He asked Commissioner Beckner if the task-force could study whether or not Tampa and Hillsborough County law enforcement could assist Temple Terrace with crime issues around their border line.

Commissioner Sandy Murman was the most critical, as she had major issues with the county spending $150,000. She said she thought Sheriff David Gee or the county's Public Safety Coordinating Council should be in charge of the task force, not a group out of California.

Commissioner Al Higginbotham also had major issues with spending $150,000, suggesting that he wanted to support the measure but not the costs.

But those concerns seemed to tick off Beckner, who mentioned much more expensive county expenditures that were approved with much less debate on the board. He also rebuked Higginbotham, saying his idea sounded like an unfunded mandate coming down from Tallahassee.

  • Kevin Beckner

Although there appeared to be less than full-fledged support during the debate, Hillsborough County Commissioners voted unanimously today to approve funding $150,000 to a San Francisco Bay Area based nonprofit organization and a local facilitator to assist a county task force in addressing violence prevention.

In January — at the first Board of County Commissioners meeting of 2013, as well as the first meeting since the Newtown, Conn., shooting — the Board approved Commissioner Kevin Beckner's motion to form a task force to deal with violence in the county. Since then, County Administrator Mike Merrill, Commissioner Beckner, and their respective staffs have been working on a proposal.

Beckner's first motion at that January meeting — to have the county invest in a gun buyback program — died without generating much support.

The $150,000 will come out of the county's Victim Assistance, Crime Prevention, and Youth Advocacy Fund, and will go to the Prevention Institute based in Oakland, and to professional facilitator Herb Marlowe.

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