The Broward County Crime Commission held its third annual conference addressing societal violence in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday.
The conference—provocatively called "Society Gone Mad"—offered a series of panels reflecting the more violent themes in our current news cycle: workplace homicide and assault, shootings at places of worship, intimate partner violence, sex trafficking of children, road rage and more. Local experts were asked to identify underlying causes of these crimes, and opportunities to prevent them.
"We're not an agency that's going to dictate policy; we want everyone to come together and figure out what's the best policy that they can pursue," said James DePelisi, chairman and CEO of the Commission.
The crowd of more than 300 people included representatives from law enforcement, state attorney's offices, social service agencies and the general public. The event was held at Long Key Natural Area and Nature Center. Between sessions, Bridget Schneiderman, president of the Broward Victim's Rights Coalition, encouraged participants to visit the park's memorial dedicated to victims of crime—a swirling stone-and-concrete sculpture set against ancient oak trees and native palms.
"We're obviously here to stop victimization," said Schneiderman, reminding the audience of what was at stake in all the day's discussions.
To that end, several conversations identified imbalances of power and control as central to the relationship between perpetrators of crimes and the people they harm—be it intimate partner violence or human trafficking.
"I would posit that all conflict is about identity," offered Dr. Judith McKay during a panel on Stand Your Ground laws. McKay is a social scientist at Nova Southeastern University who studies conflict resolution. She explained that in her line of work, she's observed that a person's perception of their own agency and identity has a strong relationship to how they respond to conflict. The driver who pulls a gun after getting cut off, for example, sees his car as an extension of himself—and the whole incident as a personal threat.
The balance of power and control emerged as themes in discussions of crime prevention, too. In a conversation about mass shootings at places of worship, panelists described the power faith leaders and congregants have to protect themselves—like adding extra security personnel, safety technology in the buildings themselves, and active shooter plans. Though, as one security consultant pointed out, religious leaders struggle to make these choices while keeping their sanctuaries welcoming spaces.
"It's a sad thing, it's a horrible thing, to put this on people," said Ari Shapira with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
According to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, violent crime rates in Florida have dropped to a third of what they were in 1990. Shapira and other participants talked about the importance of preparing for the worst and weighing risks without succumbing to paranoia.
"I still swim in the ocean even if I know there are sharks there," said Shapira.