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Broward County sheriff pleads for legislation expanding involuntary hospitalization

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel spoke at a news conference about the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Israel said he wants lawmakers to expand a state law that allows involuntary psychiatric hospitalization for those who pose a threat to themselves or others. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The Broward County sheriff on Thursday pleaded for lawmakers to expand a state law that allows involuntary psychiatric hospitalization for those who pose a threat to themselves or others.

Sheriff Scott Israel said during a news conference that he wants the Baker Act to give more power to police and doctors to hospitalize people who make threatening or violent social media posts for a psychiatric evaluation.

Florida's Baker Act, which was enacted in 1972, allows authorities to detain a person for up to 72 hours for a psychiatric evaluation, but there usually has to be "evidence of harm, self-harm or harm to others, or self-neglect and evidence of mental illness," said Annette Christy, director of the Baker Act Reporting Center.

Nikolas Cruz, who admitted in court to killing 17 people, and injuring many others, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Wednesday, had a history of posting "very disturbing" images, posts, and comments on various social media sites, Israel said.

"We need to give police the power if they see something on social media, if they see graphic pictures of rifles and blood and gore and guns and bombs, if they see something, horrific language, if they see a person talking about ‘I want to grow up to be a serial killer,'" Israel said.

The sheriff said there's a nationwide need for more law enforcement officers and first-responders to help keep people safe.

He said there would be some who are concerned about the costs or human rights.

"People are going to be rightfully so concerned about their rights, as am I, but what about the rights of these students?" Israel asked. “What about the rights of young kids who go to schools with book bags and pencils? Don't they have the right to be protected by the United States government to the best of our ability?"

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