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FBI says big changes needed for tip line after Parkland shooting

Jim Lewis, attorney for James and Kimberly Snead, talks to reporters after the couple testified to the Broward County grand jury in the Parkland school mass shooting. James Snead and Lewis both wore silver pins bearing the number "17" to commemorate the number of victims. (Tonya Alanez/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)
March 08, 2018

The FBI needs stronger agency safeguards — notably better training for call-takers and tip line supervisors — according to a preliminary report from the FBI to Congress released Wednesday.

The FBI briefed members of two congressional committees Tuesday on its failures to heed warnings about Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people there Feb. 14.

The FBI previously said it didn’t follow protocol in how it handled two warnings about Cruz, but Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., who was at the briefing, told McClatchy current protocol doesn’t even sound like it’s enough.

“I asked if there was a script or an outline for people who take these tips, and there’s not, it’s not in the process,” Mitchell said. “I think if you hear certain sets of things it should trigger an engagement with a supervisor, or if you’re taking a tip call, which is a hard job, a supervisor or FBI agent should be on the call.”

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., said the FBI needs to make sure its lead evaluation system is “foolproof,” but there also needs to be a system for actively monitoring threats, not just a tip line. Crime prevention needs to be as valued as crime response, he said.

“It seems to me that we’re reactive, that we wait for a lead to be generated,” Krishnamoorthi said. “We need to look at social media and other places people might discuss these kinds of intentions.”

Reps. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the committees’ chairmen, said they will wait to review the FBI’s final report to make sure changes are implemented there. The chairmen provided no timeline for that final report.

No congressional hearings or action has been scheduled as a result of the Wednesday findings, but the chairmen said in a joint statement they will “review our laws to see if information sharing between federal, state, and local law enforcement can be improved to enhance public safety.”

On Jan. 5, a woman who knew Cruz told the FBI tip line “I know he’s going to explode,” and added she worried he would be slipping “into a school and just shooting the place up,”

That should have amounted to a “potential threat to life,” according to the FBI. That means it should have been forwarded to the FBI Miami Field Office, where “appropriate investigative steps would have been taken.” But the information was never provided to the local office.

But according to the Wednesday report, following the tip, the call taker spoke with a supervisor and connected information about Cruz to another warning on September 2017, when Cruz left a YouTube comment about wanting to be a school shooter.

“Despite these connected dots, the call taker and supervisor decided to not pursue the matter further and the case was closed,” Gowdy and Goodlatte said. “Further, the FBI did not contact local authorities in Parkland even though the caller stated that Parkland police had also been notified about Cruz’s disturbing behavior.”

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© 2018 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.