BSO’s forensics unit, real-time crime center receive $1.5 million in federal grants

The Broward Sheriff’s Office has received nearly $1.5 million in federal funding to expand its Real Time Crime Center, which was created after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, and its Digital Forensics Unit to help with investigations of human trafficking.

U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Jared Moskowitz, who submitted the funding requests, held a news conference with Sheriff Gregory Tony to announce the grants Thursday.

The $525,000 for the Digital Forensics Unit will be used to pay for hardware, work stations, computer software to “boost evidence tracking and collaboration with prosecutors” with a focus on investigating child sex crimes and human trafficking, said Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston.

“Unfortunately, as the Sheriff has talked about so many times, human trafficking is a really terrible scourge right here in South Florida,” Wasserman Schultz said. “We really are a hotbed because of how many tourists we have and how many major events we have, which are often a magnet for those who want to seek out that kind of activity.”

The South Florida Sun Sentinel’s 2023 “Innocence Sold” investigation uncovered how state failures contribute to child sex trafficking, how hotels have gotten away with thousands of violations of an anti-trafficking law, and how the state’s foster care system gives sex traffickers access to vulnerable children. The team’s project also highlighted how victims are often treated as criminals.

Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony speaks as Congressman Jared Moskowitz looks on during a news conference held at the BSO Public Safety Building in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, June 20, 2024, to announce federal funding awarded to BSO for their Real Time Crime Center and Digital Forensics Unit. (Amy Beth Bennett / Sun Sentinel)
Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony speaks as Congressman Jared Moskowitz looks on during a news conference held at the BSO Public Safety Building in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, June 20, 2024, to announce federal funding awarded to BSO for their Real Time Crime Center and Digital Forensics Unit. (Amy Beth Bennett / Sun Sentinel)

The $963,000 for the Real Time Crime Center will be used similarly for technology and more personnel to help “mitigate the workload,” Tony said.

The Real Time Crime Center was created in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting where 17 people were murdered and 17 others injured, “designed to mitigate another tragedy,” said Moskowitz, D-Parkland.

The Real Time Crime Center works closely with dispatch, and people can connect security cameras at their businesses or homes with the center to share footage directly, which are accessed based on where crimes are reported. It allows detectives to see a potential active scene before deputies and first responders arrive, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Moskowitz, who graduated from Stoneman Douglas, has been a vocal supporter for gun violence prevention since the Parkland mass shooting and since the mass school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in 2022 where 21 students and teachers were murdered.

Moskowitz was one of several elected officials who walked through the 1200 building at Stoneman Douglas where the students and teachers were murdered. The process to demolish the building began last week.

“While the building is coming down, (we’ll) never forget what happened in that building. The victims, but also the failures that happened. Failures that we have fixed in a lot of ways,” Moskowitz said.

Closing Parkland’s open wound: The dismantling of a crime scene

Moskowitz said the shootings in Parkland and Uvalde shared “almost identical, same failures.” He and U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, a Republican who represents Uvalde, formed a school safety task force last year.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its reporting  on the failures of law enforcement, school officials and social services before, during and after the Parkland shooting. 

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