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Nassau unveils task force to help prevent potential mass shootings

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas during the

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas during the first meeting of the task force in Bethpage on Tuesday. Credit: Johnny Milano

Nassau County has launched a task force to study ways to improve safety inside schools, religious organizations and businesses, including examining ways for them to share information about potential perpetrators of mass shootings with police.

The task force — made up of professionals from various backgrounds, including educators, health care providers and police officers — met for the first time Tuesday in Bethpage.

“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,” said Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, who created the task force.

The initiative comes as school officials and local governments across the nation are reviewing security procedures and safety protocols after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A former student of the school is accused of killing 17 students and staff there on Valentine’s Day.

At its first meeting, task force members heard from various speakers, including Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and an attorney who discussed privacy laws.

In conversations with educators, mental health providers and medical practitioners, Singas said these professionals want to share information with the authorities but fear doing so would violate laws that safeguard individuals’ medical and educational records.

These laws — the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA, and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA — do allow certain information to be disclosed to law enforcement officials if a student or a patient poses an imminent safety threat, Singas said.

“This task force is going to work to ensure those paths of communication are clear, that sensitive information in handled carefully when it is received, and that law enforcement agencies and medical providers do not silo important information that we need to credibly assess threats to keep our communities safe,” Singas said.

The task force will form subcommittees designed around three areas: privacy, prevention and intervention, and coordinated response among law enforcement agencies.

Currently, it takes Nassau police three to five minutes to respond to an emergency, Ryder said. The majority of school shootings since the Columbine High School massacre are over in two to five minutes, he said.

“Sounds to me like I need to close the gap of that 60 seconds because time saves lives,” Ryder said. “That’s how we are going to make a difference here.”

The task force is expected to produce a report by year’s end.

“We’re going to have a substantive report that is tangible, that is usable, that is relevant, and that will transcend Nassau County and be used, hopefully, by our sister counties in the rest of the state and beyond,” said Joyce Smith, the task force director and Nassau Deputy Executive Assistant District Attorney for Community Relations.

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