Florida Psychologists Oppose Baker Act Changes Some Police Say Could Prevent Mass Shootings

Feb 26, 2018

Florida lawmakers are debating several measures aimed at preventing mass shootings, and some law enforcement officials are calling for another one: Making it easier to detain certain people suffering from mental illness.

But the leader of the state’s largest psychologist lobbying group cautions that unfairly puts too many people in the crosshairs.

Lawmakers are considering measures like increasing the minimum age to buy a weapon and hardening school protections. Meanwhile, reports of inaction on the part of a Broward school resource officer has that county’s pro-gun-control sheriff under fire by conservative state legislators.

Dozens of lawmakers, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran, are calling on Florida Gov. Rick Scott to remove Sheriff Scott Israel from office after it came to light that his department was warned about the shooter nearly 20 times and that an officer assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School failed to engage Nikolas Cruz as he shot and killed 17 people.

But on First Coast Connect Monday, former Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office spokesman Ken Jefferson said there’s little law enforcement can do without a change to the state’s involuntary commitment law, which allows people to be locked up if they’re a danger to themselves or others.

“Throughout my career the Baker Act criteria was the same,” he said. “It does need to be upgraded to include looking at social media pages, to include determining whether or not this person has had prior psychological issues.”

Reports show Cruz sought mental health treatment. Still, Florida Psychological Association Director Dr. Carolyn Stimel pointed to studies like one from North Carolina State University that found the mentally ill are more likely to be the victims of violence, not the perpetrators. She supports proposals increasing mental health funding  — Florida is at the bottom when it comes to spending on mental health treatment —  but she says tying mental illness to mass shootings stigmatizes people with mental illness, which could drive them away from treatment.

“If someone has a huge fight with their wife and says, ‘You know, I feel like killing you,’ does that give the state the right to come in and lock them up for however many days? And what is that purpose, other than just preventative detention, which is not really something we’ve believed in in this country?” she said.

Stimel also pointed to other studies that found that less than a quarter of school shooters actually mentally ill.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk