Orlando, skipped over in a federal grant program providing anti-terrorism money to big-city police the past three years, is back in the program, Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings announced Monday.
Demings, of Orlando, and others from Central Florida have been fighting for several years to convince the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that rules it adopted for 2014 were unfair to cities such as Orlando that have enormous swells of tourism population, making them more likely targets. Orlando had received grants from the department’s Urban Area Security Initiative prior to 2014, but not since, even with the horrific 2016 attack on the city’s popular gay nightclub Pulse, which killed 49 people.
Orlando will receive $1.5 million this year, announced Demings, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. The grant program was created to provide funding to help with anti-terrorism planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercises in urban areas which could be targeted. Since 2014 it has gone only to the nation’s largest cities.
In total, law enforcement agencies and non-profit organizations in 32 cities around the nation—including Orlando, Tampa and Miami—will receive UASI funding this year.
“I am gratified that Orlando is back on the list to get the vital anti-terror funding we need and deserve,” Demings stated in a news release issued by her office. “Our community thrives on tourism and travel. Enormous recreational hubs are magnets for economic activity and make us a world destination, but they also make us a potential target.
“Our community has personal experience with tragedy. Every one of us, and every visitor to Central Florida, should feel safe while enjoying a day of fun, a night of entertainment, a morning of worship, or in the workplace. We must be ever-vigilant as we work to stay safe. I am working hard on the House Homeland Security Committee to make sure that Orlando has every tool it needs to prevent future attacks,” she added.
In 2016 her husband Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and Orlando Police Chief John Mina testified before Congress urging a change in rules. Since entering office in early 2017 Congresswoman Demings and other members of the Central Florida delegation, Democratic U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto, also have been pushing hard with the department. Prior to the 2016 election, Murphy’s predecessor, Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica, also pushed.
“Protecting our families and communities must always be a top priority. As one of the nation’s most popular destinations, Orlando needs and deserves federal support to keep residents and visitors safe,” Murphy stated in a news release issued by her office. “I’m proud to have successfully fought alongside Congresswoman Demings and Congressman Soto to bring this anti-terrorism funding back to central Florida so local law enforcement agencies and non-profit organizations have the resources they need to prevent tragedies.”
“These federal funds are critical to strengthen public safety in central Florida” said Soto. “Not too long ago, our community endured a tragic act of terrorism at the Pulse nightclub shooting, becoming one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in our nation since September 11th. UASI funds will enhance preparedness and prevention against terrorist threats and other disasters. We will continue the push for federal funds to better equip our local law enforcement and ensure safety for our residents and the millions of visitors to central Florida each year.”
In addition, because Orlando and the other cities will receive UASI funding, non-profit organizations in the cities will automatically become eligible to apply for Nonprofit Security Grants through DHS.
In Orlando, LYNX and SunRail can now apply for Transit Security Grants from the agency, while owners and operators of private bus companies that serve Orlando can apply for DHS Intercity Bus Security Grants.
“I have argued that because of our large targets and high visitor counts, Orlando should be placed higher on the list when distributing anti-terror funding,” Demings said. “I am glad that the Department of Homeland Security put my requested changes into practice, using more accurate data sources, and placing Orlando back in contention for funds to ensure that all of us can stay safe.”
The change also was pushed by members of Congress from similar cities that came in just too small to qualify under the new rules, even they host millions of tourists a year. San Antonio, for one, also got a $1.5 million grant this year.