As the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11 approaches, Gov. Rick Scott joined security officials Thursday in announcing a new state hotline and website for Floridians to report suspicious activity.
Florida's "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign is a spin-off of the one started by New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 2002. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security launched a nationwide campaign in 2010. Florida's number is 1-800-FLA-SAFE.
The idea is that residents report suspicious activity -- like people trying to access restricted areas, impersonating law enforcement or leaving bags behind in public places -- to the hotline or website, and authorities will check it out.
Reporters asked if the program would lead to racial profiling or violate people's privacy. FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey said residents should focus on behavior, not people. Scott doubted it posed a significant privacy risk.
"I think that they (FDLE) have good discretion, and we’ll look at it," Scott said. "The biggest thing this does is it just continues to highlight the fact that we have to be vigiliant."
Update: The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida criticized the campaign as not being a legitimate law enforcement technique.
"Instead of turning up actual, reliable tips, this blunt approach pits neighbor against neighbor and citizen against citizen and increases suspicion and mistrust rather than building cooperation and understanding," executive director Howard Simon said in a statement.
"This is an enhancement of what we have now," Bailey said.
Scott recalled -- somewhat incorrectly -- how a tip led Tampa police to thwart a 17-year-old's planned attack on Liberty High School (it was a bomb plot, not a planned shooting, as Scott told reporters). Police Chief Jane Castor said then that officers prevented a "catastrophic event the likes of which Tampa has not seen.
"Somebody tipped the police off, which was nice," Scott said.
Here's the release:
Tallahassee, Fla. – Governor Rick Scott today joined Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Assistant Secretary of Intergovernmental Affairs Betsy Markey, and the leadership of Florida’s Domestic Security Oversight Council to launch “If You See Something, Say Something”™ in Florida. The initiative features a toll-free, statewide hotline and online reporting form for citizens to report suspicious activity.
“As we draw closer to the 10-year anniversary of 9-11, there is no better time to remember the many lives lost that day a decade ago, and to remind citizens of the need to remain vigilant,” said Governor Scott. “This is another tool that citizens and tourists can use to contact authorities when they witness something they know is out of place.”
Tips received through the hotline and online reporting form will go to the Florida Fusion Center, a 24-hour watch desk at FDLE, where intelligence analysts will assess the information and take action in conjunction with the state’s Regional Domestic Security Task Forces.
“Florida has sophisticated domestic security and information sharing systems in place and we are safer than ever before,” said Commissioner Bailey, chair of the Domestic Security Oversight Council. “Prevention is our first priority, and people who report suspicious activity help us identify and address potential threats early on.”
“Our nation’s security is a shared responsibility and every citizen plays a critical role in identifying and reporting suspicious activities and threats,” said U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. “The new partnership between Florida and DHS on the ‘If You See Something, Say Something’™ campaign will help to create a more safe and secure homeland.”
DHS recently unveiled television and radio public service announcements that will be broadcast in Florida and across the nation. The state campaign will also include displays on mall posters, bus stops, and other transportation hubs. To help encourage public awareness, the Florida Outdoor Advertising Association, through its member network of companies, has donated space on digital billboards statewide until mid-September.
“If You See Something, Say Something”™ was originally created by the New York City Transportation Authority and subsequently adopted by the DHS, which has partnered and launched the initiative with NCAA, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the NBA, the NFL, as well as several states including Colorado, Minnesota and New Jersey, more than 9,000 federal buildings nationwide, Walmart, Mall of America, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, Amtrak, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the general aviation industry, and state and local fusion centers across the country. For more information please visit www.dhs.gov/IfYouSeeSomethingSaySomething.
Officials encourage anyone who sees suspicious activity to report it to local authorities or call I-855-FLA-SAFE (1-855-352-7233). It can also be reported online through FDLE’s website at www.fdle.state.fl.us.