Leadership Class Learned Importance of Adequate Funding for Public Safety Agencies

Leon Fooksman
Leadership Palm Beach County
March 23, 2015

The jail system overseen by Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) is the largest mental health institution in our county. Did you know: 1 out of 4 individuals will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime?


These and many other facts were presented to the Leadership Class of 2015 during the recent Public Safety Day. One of the day’s takeaways: PBSO, County Fire & Rescue, court system, and mental health programs need adequate funding.


Class member Pam Swensen describes the day:


Taking care of the needs of the community carries a huge responsibility. And it is not free. While so many of us take our liberty for granted, many are challenged with issues, making bad decisions and being exposed to an environment that is not conducive to leading a productive and law abiding life.  


Palm Beach County delivers when it comes to Public Safety. Despite what we read in the paper or hear in the news, resource deployment when it comes to public safety, emergency management and crime in the county is more than a full time job for all of the departments involved in protecting the liberties of the county’s citizens. The need for adequate funding for PBSO, Fire & Rescue, the court system, mental health programs are the paramount issues facing each of these entities.  


Without collaborative efforts intersecting public safety agencies, the challenges would be even greater than what currently exists. This week’s Leadership Class of 2015’s Public Safety Day experience provided the class with a no hold’s bar look on these collaborative efforts occurring daily to address Public Safety challenges throughout the county.


Sheriff Rick Bradshaw did an outstanding job discussing three key topics “in the news” that law enforcement is facing today and are under the intense media scrutiny: medical marijuana, the use of body cameras (as a tool not the be all and end all) and homeland security. In addition, he -- as did many others’ speak about the challenges of mental illness in our community. He cited that the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is the largest mental health institution in the county. Did you know that 1 out of 4 individuals will experience some sort of mental health issue in their lifetime?


The state of Florida is ranked #49th on the list on the amount of funds allocated to mental health and substance abuse programs. 80% of people in custody in Palm Beach County today have some sort of substance abuse issue while 35-40%  of inmates have some sort of mental illness. Proactive prevention within the communities is not sufficient without more finding. 


The PBSO has developed “On the Street” mental health clinics despite a veto of funding from the governor, to take a proactive approach to addressing this issue before an arrest is made.  Dr. Adam White’s insights as the Mental Health Director at the PBC Jail were daunting and the treatment and stabilization program used with clients while incarcerated. The PBSO Mental Health program has been cited as a Best Practice among Law Enforcement in the U.S.     


Prevention education targeted at youth in the community and the need to look at the juvenile system was another key issue discussed. With the proliferation of gangs and recruitment efforts beginning at age 7 in schools, being proactive attacking these issues at an early age can mitigate challenges later in life. Often once you are in the system; it’s difficult to get out.


Our visit to the Emergency Operations Center, charged with protecting the county’s community assets and investments, is a visible and critical link in being prepared to activate all resources when vulnerability happens within our county. Whether it’s a hurricane, flooding, a dike failure, a nuclear power plant issue, there are procedures and systems in place to get the community back to normal should there be an occurrence. The preparedness efforts, protocols and systematic responsiveness are ever present to assist the needs of residents within Palm Beach County. 

Palm Beach County is paradise to many of us who reside here. The spokes of the wheel that keep our county functioning and performing on a daily basis, 24/7; 365 days a year are due to the efforts of the leadership within this community. Making it all happen comes with a large cost.


As leaders in this community, we do have a call to action whether we are directly impacted or not.  Don’t be complacent. When it’s budgeting time for the county, speak up. Attend a budget hearing. Verbalize support for funding. Yes, our tax dollars are at work – however, the need is increasing with population growth, expanded gang related activities, the need for more security and mental health prevention programs. If we can do anything at all as leaders, voice our support for these services that are dedicated to providing public safety as a top priority in this paradise we call the Palm Beaches.