Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks at a Crime Subcommitte Hearing on “Preventable Violence in America: An Examination of Law Enforcement Information Sharing and Misguided Public Policy.” This hearing will examine misguided public policy decisions that prevent law enforcement from interceding against violent individuals at schools, including problems with information sharing that occurred at the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Chairman Goodlatte: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. At the outset, I’d like to welcome all the witnesses and thank them for their testimony today. I want to recognize, in particular, my friend Sheriff Tim Carter of Shenandoah County, in my congressional district. Sheriff Carter has served the men and women of Shenandoah County since 2003, and has done so with great honor and distinction. Sheriff, I am very glad to see you here today.
Today’s hearing focuses on information sharing between federal, state, and local law enforcement, and public policy decisions that have resulted in less information being known to law enforcement about potentially violent juveniles.
In the wake of the tragic and senseless attack on the students and faculty of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, by Nikolas Cruz, a narrative of failures by law enforcement at all levels has emerged. We must examine what information law enforcement had concerning Cruz and what was done with that information. However, we must also examine how a troubled youth like Cruz, with a disturbing history of deviant behavior and ample signs of mental instability, would have a spotless criminal record, allowing him to purchase multiple weapons. Given the Obama-era mandates for schools to reduce the “school-to-prison” pipeline by arresting fewer students, the frightening question is: How many other Nikolas Cruzes are out there?
The FBI has briefed Members and staff of this Committee in detail regarding the tips the FBI received regarding Nikolas Cruz. The FBI told us that it has initiated internal investigations of the handling of both tips – the Internet tip from September 2017 and the phone call from January 2018 – and will report the results of its investigations to us once they are complete. The FBI told us of certain changes to protocol that have already been made. We expect to hear of additional changes and accountability after the investigations are concluded.
There were also numerous tips made to the Broward County Sheriff and other local authorities concerning Cruz’s aberrant behavior and acts of violence. Instead of having Cruz arrested for his violent acts, officials transferred him to other schools or referred him to counseling. The reason for this lenient approach was that Broward County school policies were altered several years ago to reduce juvenile arrests. These policies, implemented by the Obama Department of Education, replaced previous “zero-tolerance” policies in Broward County. Before this change, Cruz likely would have been arrested, perhaps multiple times.
The lack of an arrest record made it more difficult for local police to confirm that Cruz was a threat and to intervene when they received tips and complaints from neighbors, classmates, and relatives about his stated desire to kill people. When the tips were made to the FBI, no derogatory information about Cruz existed in the federal National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, which includes all state arrests, convictions, warrants, and alerts. If Cruz had been arrested and booked for any of the on-campus offenses he committed, the FBI intake specialist handling the call would have seen this criminal history in NCIC and the call would have been taken more seriously. Moreover, Cruz would not have been permitted to purchase a firearm under the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
Our nation’s safety depends on law enforcement at all levels seamlessly sharing information, but that information is only as good as what is documented and entered into systems. When information is inaccurate or missing, or derogatory information is not generated because of misguided public policy, the ability of law enforcement to protect us is severely impaired.
Having said that, in this case there are also very concerning missed steps by law enforcement, as well. I look forward to examining all these problems in depth during today’s hearing.
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing. I look forward to the testimony today, and yield back the balance of my time.