Leadership Engage Class of 2017 gets a rare glimpse into Public Safety in Palm Beach County
By Matt Constantine; Photo provided by Pat Brown
What was the most important issue/debate discussed during the session day? What is the best way to solve or address the issue?
Public Safety Day offered a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the emergency response and criminal justice systems of Palm Beach County. A recurring theme that was heard in the opening remarks of Chief Deputy Michel Gauger to the closing tour of the PBSO jail centered on the impact that mental health and addiction have on our criminal, judicial, and emergency response systems in Palm Beach County. It is disarming to know that the County’s largest provider of mental health services is the Main Detention Center. Additionally, the majority of cases that are seen by Judge Marx in the First Appearance Court are directly attributable to addiction and mental health issues. Finally, Fire/Rescue crews are battling a burgeoning overdose epidemic that has infiltrated Palm Beach County.
It is apparent that leaders of these respective systems would like to see enhanced and increased options for populations battling mental health issues, alcoholism, and drug abuse. There also appears to be a strong fiscal argument for this approach as well – prevention dollars are better spent than intervention dollars. Communities across the country are dealing with similar issues, but are also recognizing the value of offering prevention and treatment programs in place of incarceration. Elected officials and key stakeholders of the community should closely examine the cost benefits of allocating more resources to prevention efforts to alleviate some of the expenses incurred with intervention efforts.
What is the 2nd most important issue/debate discussed during the session day? What is the best way to solve or address the issue?
Another issue covered during Public Safety Day centered on Palm Beach County’s ability to prepare and respond to emergencies and disasters. It was eye opening to listen to Bill Johnson, Director of PBC’s Division of Emergency Management, explain the workings of Pam Beach County’s Emergency Operations Center and how prepared we are as a county in the event that there is an emergency/disaster. Bill and Robert Sofaly, of Red Cross, described in great detail the complexities surrounding the delivery of relief efforts to such a large county. It is imperative that Palm Beach County consistently assesses its ability to effectively react and assist its residents in the face of calamity.
What can the broader leadership community do to solve/address these issues?
Residents and key stakeholders of Palm Beach County should better educate themselves concerning the issues of mental health and addiction and its impact on overall public safety. Advocacy efforts could result in a transition to a trauma-informed and proactive response versus a costly and ineffective punitive approach. This concept seemed to be supported by many, if not all, of the leaders who presented throughout the day.