Note: This article was initially published on the WUFT site on 2/10/17.
President Trump spoke Tuesday at the National Sheriff’s Association’s winter meeting. Opening and closing his speech with warnings regarding potential terrorism, Trump said he plans to give sheriffs the weapons they need to do their jobs effectively.
Trump’s speech was bookended by statements on the importance of local law enforcement in the fight against terror.
The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) already understands this importance. The ACSO has increased its efforts to combat terrorism in its jurisdiction.
Lt. Brandon Kutner, Alachua County Sheriff’s spokesman, said the ACSO has always been conscious of potential terrorist threats, but the recent attacks in San Bernardino, Calif. and Orlando, Fla., have spurred more intense preparation efforts. Kutner said these measures include participation in more frequent and varied training programs, and the acquisition of more advanced equipment.
“Whether it be an improvised explosive device, or if someone’s just really hell bent on causing harm to as many people as possible, we have plans in place to deal with that,” he said.
Kutner said the ACSO is part of a Regional Domestic Security Task Force, which allows them to collaborate with other sheriff’s offices in Northeast Florida, including those in Jacksonville and Marion County.
“We share a support network of equipment, personnel and training in order to combat what we describe as domestic terrorism,” he said.
The Florida Department of Law enforcement website said these task forces are the foundation of domestic security in Florida. The task forces also serve as a force multiplier in the case of an attack.
The Jacksonville and Marion County Sheriff’s Offices participate in annual training exercises with the ACSO, which Kutner said is made possible by participation in the task force.
Despite a recent boost in their efforts, such as participation in training courses across both the state and country, the ACSO only received $1,766 from the task force in 2016. Although the ACSO was unable to confirm how much they were awarded in 2015, Kutner said it was much higher.
Kutner said the reason the ACSO received a lesser amount than what they’re used to is because of the task force’s funding division system. Money is allotted proportionally based on which county needs funding the most. Therefore, Kutner said the amount of new equipment, such as a rook and armored personnel carrier, and staff they already have caused the task force to allot the ACSO less.
The spokesman said another major source of financial support comes from the United States Department of Homeland Security. This funding is not allotted annually, but for a two to three year period. According to the Department of Homeland Security website, these grants may be used for equipment purchases, training programs and other terrorism combatant and preparation efforts.
Kutner said because of the length of this range, recent terrorist activity has not yet been reflected in the amount of funding received. He said the ACSO is unable to disclose the amount the federal government funding provided for the current period.
This funding is directed toward equipment acquisition and upkeep, as well as monthly training programs for all related teams, Kutner said.
Despite having less money to work with, Kutner said the ACSO is using the equipment and training its various terrorism combatant teams to continue to be prepared.
In a press release from ACSO, Sheriff Sadie Darnell cited an award-winning SWAT Team, an FBI-certified bomb team and a marine operations team as a few of the divisions actively training for potential terror threats.
This is similar to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, who faced the Pulse Nightclub attack. It actively trains its SWAT team and a hazardous device team for potential terrorist threats.
Kutner said because the training offered in Alachua County sometimes isn’t enough, the ACSO sends teams across the state and nation to participate in specialized training courses.
Alexis Burton, a Gainesville resident, said she feels safe in Alachua County, and she trusts the police to protect her from terror.
Gainesville resident Jacob Zieper doesn’t see terrorism as a threat to Alachua County.
“Anti-semitic attacks I can absolutely see,” he said. “But in terms of organized terror, I can’t imagine they’d bother with Alachua.”
He said a lack of potential targets in Alachua County justified his opinion.
In the case of an unexpected attack, however, Zieper said he completely trusts the ACSO to protect him.
Kutner disagrees with sentiments of terrorism not being a threat to Alachua County. He cited the University of Florida’s football stadium and nuclear engineering school as prime targets for an attack.
“You have 90,000 people that are packed into a stadium for a Saturday home game,” Kutner said. “That’s a potential issue for us with regard to homeland security.”
In order to prevent an attack of this nature, the ACSO has been working with the University of Florida Police Department, as well as the Gainesville Police Department, by carrying out a screening process at all games.
He said obvious targets aren’t the only Alachua County locations that are threatened — it could happen anywhere.
“No one would say that a nightclub in Orlando would be a specific target for a terrorist attack, but we saw what happened down there,” Kutner said. “No one would say an office building in San Bernardino, California, would be the target of a terrorist attack, but again, it happened, and the local authorities had to be prepared for that.”
Kutner said the police aren’t the only personnel who need to be active in the fight against potential terror. He said he urges all citizens to be alert and aware of their surroundings.
In August 2016, the ACSO joined the Nixle alert program. This mobile service not only allows Alachua County residents to receive alerts on nearby criminal activity, but citizens can text ACSO with anything suspicious they would like to report using the phone number 888-777. They may attach photos and/or videos to these messages.
The sheriff’s office participates in the statewide “If you See Something, Say Something” campaign. In a press release, Sheriff Darnell said to call 1-855-352-7233 if residents notice any suspicious activity.
“The citizens know best,” Kutner said. “If you’re at home and you realize that car that’s been parked across the street is not normally there, as a deputy patrols through that neighborhood, that deputy is not going to know if that’s a normal thing.”