For the third-straight year, Orlando has been denied local anti-terrorism money for not being a significant enough target under federal guidelines, exasperating Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings who has pushed federal officials to reconsider their decision-making process.
Demings, as have other current and former members of Congress from Orlando, has been pushing U.S. Homeland Security Department officials to reconsider decisions that leave Orlando out while not taking into account the scores of millions of visitors who populate the region each year and create potentially tempting targets for terrorists.
Nor does the process apparently take into account last year’s massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, the deadliest terrorist attack in America since 9/11.
“We are baffled to learn that once again, the Orlando area has been left out of the Urban Area Security Initiative,” Demings said in a news release issued by her office.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, also of Orlando, joined her statement of frustration and determination, saying the federal formula appears to be “completely and unconscionably broken” if it cannot recognize Orlando’s risks.
Earlier this year Demings, a retired Orlando police chief, and U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican whose hometown of San Antonio also got passed over for recent grants, organized a bipartisan group with 19 other members of Congress, calling for an increase in counter-terrorism funding for the nation’s at-risk cities.
Currently, only the “highest-risk” cities nationwide are eligible, as judged by U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
It’s an issue that Demings husband, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, and Orlando Police Chief John Mina also testified about in a congressional hearing last year, arguing that the Homeland Security’s scoring system for the Urban Area Security Initiative, was unfair to cities like Orlando.
“Well before the Pulse nightclub shooting, local law enforcement had asked Congress to add the Orlando area to the list of cities who receive funding for counterterrorism efforts, in part because our city is a global destination, with a record 68 million visitors last year,” Demings stated.
“I will continue to urge Congress to expand the list of cities included and work to ensure that we have the proper funds to prepare and respond to terrorism in Central Florida,” she added.
“Working with my Central Florida colleagues, I will follow up with the administration to forcefully argue that the current funding formula is dead wrong,” Soto said in a statement issued by his office. “If the occurrence of a terrorist attack in a recent year, and a city’s ranking as the number one destination for international tourism do not result in funding, then the formula is completely and unconscionably broken beyond repair. The Trump Administration needs to start over from scratch and run an open, but speedy, consultative process with Congress and America’s mayors, beginning now, to fix this problem going forward.”