The Nassau County District Attorney’s Office has launched a new initiative that brings together law enforcement, mental health professionals, educators, religious leaders and community stakeholders to promote preparedness and improve information-sharing regarding potential threats.
The Nassau County School & Community Safety Task Force was established to enhance the security of schools, colleges, places of worship and public buildings. Among those on the task force is Massapequa School District teacher Tomia Smith.
“We cannot allow the frequency of mass shootings in America to leave us complacent,” District Attorney Madeline Singas said. “These horrific acts of violence could happen here, and we must take every possible preventative step to ensure that educators, parents, mental health professionals, and religious leaders share information regarding possible threats so that law enforcement can diligently investigate them. This Task Force will bring stakeholders together to tear down communication barriers and ensure Nassau is taking a proactive approach to prevent these senseless crimes.”
Singas noted that privacy laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) are frequently cited by medical professionals and school officials as obstacles to information-sharing regarding potential threats, but that both laws have clear exceptions for disclosures to law enforcement regarding imminent safety threats.
The Task Force will explore the protocols in place at Nassau schools and colleges to share information regarding potential threats with law enforcement as well as assess the training and support needs of educators, religious leaders, and private security officials at public buildings, including malls, to reduce the threat of a mass casualty event. The 30-person committee will develop recommendations and guidance to ensure that timely disclosures regarding individuals who may be a danger to themselves or others are expeditiously made to the appropriate parties in addition to preparing a training curriculum for educators and mental health practitioners regarding the health and safety exceptions to FERPA and HIPPA. A public report will be issued detailing the Task Force’s findings and recommendations.
The task force will also engage religious community leaders to address concerns regarding safety at places of worship.
“This new initiative by the District Attorney will bring together numerous professionals from different backgrounds to enhance all around safety,” said Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder. “As a group we need to eliminate barriers to information sharing as it is ever so important to be able to prevent this violence. I look forward to collaborating in the future with the members of the task force to ensure our preparedness which will benefit out residents and communities.”
Task Force members will work in committees focused on prevention and disclosure of threats, law enforcement collaboration and responsiveness, as well as legislative, privacy, and training issues and will issue its report by year’s end. The Task Force has established a website at www.nassausafety.org which affords the public the opportunity to submit questions, concerns, or comments to the Task Force.