WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - President Donald Trump’s frequent visits to South Florida make the area a high-risk target for terrorism, one that justifies more money from the federal government, Palm Beach County’s top law enforcement agency says.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is pushing for the federal government to boost its funding for terrorism prevention by designating Mar-a-Lago - Trump’s private club - a "high-risk critical asset," according to a memo obtained by the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
"Having the president governing from our county in an area bordered on water on each side in a facility never built to offer the level of protection the president requires is a challenge," Palm Beach County Commissioner Dave Kerner said. "We have to continue to supplement our local response."
Trump is making his 12th visit to Mar-a-Lago this weekend since becoming president.
In South Florida, anti-terrorism grants have been used to purchase automated license plate readers, cameras, mobile command centers, night-vision goggles, rescue boats and other specialized equipment.
When the federal government awards anti-terrorism funds, one factor officials examine is the presence of symbolic targets and landmarks. The money is distributed through the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Area Security Initiative.
Homeland Security gave $580 million in Urban Area Security Initiative funds in the 2017 budget year, including about $5.2 million for South Florida. New York City received the largest grant at $178 million.
Funding decisions have been controversial.
Orlando - the site of the Pulse shooting - hasn’t received anti-terrorism funds through the Urban Area Security Initiative since 2014. Las Vegas leaders argued after the mass shooting there that Homeland Security undervalued their threat risk, leading to insufficient funding.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has been the lead agency supporting the U.S. Secret Service in protecting Trump’s estate since Trump was elected.
More than 1,300 employees have worked over 40,000 hours protecting Trump during his visits, an expense that has exceeded $3 million, according to the sheriff’s office. Ultimately, the county received reimbursement for those expenses in a special appropriation through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
But sheriff’s officials say additional Homeland Security funding could help offset future costs. They asked for the high-risk designation in an application to receive reimbursement for overtime costs associated with protecting the president.
While anti-terrorism grants could help keep Mar-a-Lago safe, Trump’s proposed budget calls for cutting the Urban Area Security Initiative program by 25 percent.
The budget prioritizes building a border wall and hiring 500 more Border Patrol agents.