BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. – The sheriff of a Florida county where a gunman killed 17 students and staff at a high school has outlined steps his agency has taken in response to the Feb. 14 massacre.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel sent a letter this week to the state commission investigating the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, according to the Miami Herald.
Among the many changes being implemented, the office altered written policy to mandate that deputies have to try to confront active shooters; the previous wording only said deputies “may” intervene.
Israel said all deputies also completed an additional eight hours of active-shooter training, and all school deputies attended a week of similar training and received carbines to give them more firepower.
The sheriff’s office created a Threat Assessment Unit, headed by a former New York Police Department inspector, and an internal committee that will address the commission’s ultimate findings and recommendations.
“Be assured, the reforms adopted to date are not the end of this process,” Israel wrote. “Rather, they are a midway point as we continue working towards addressing all of the findings related to our agency and implementing all of the Commission’s recommendations.”
Under the new BSO policy, deputies responding to an active shooting “shall attempt to protect the life of innocent persons through immediate tactical intervention to eliminate the threat,” according to a Dec. 21 memo from BSO Col. James Polan.
They are then given a set of priorities ranked in order of importance: “Stop the assailant(s). Rescue the victims. Provide medical assistance. Arrest suspects and preserve the crime scene.”
The old policy stated that “if real time intelligence exists the sole deputy or a team of deputies may enter the area and/or structure to preserve life. A supervisor’s approval or on-site observation is not required for this decision.”
The changes come 10-months after what became a national tragedy, and a heap of criticism was placed upon the sheriff’s department and Israel himself. A group of his own deputies voted no confidence in his leadership in April.
On Feb. 14, Nikolas Cruz entered the freshman building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and opened fire for roughly six minutes. Eight BSO deputies were on the school’s sizable campus in time to hear his gunshots. But they did not immediately enter the building, and several were seen taking cover. The deputies said they could not identify where the shooting was taking place, although sworn statements by other police officers who responded cast doubt on some of their accounts. Cruz had fled by the time law enforcement entered the building 11 minutes after he started shooting.
Ryan Petty, a member of the state’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission whose daughter, 14-year-old Alaina, was killed at Parkland, said Sunday that at first glance the new policy appeared “significantly improved.”
“Make no mistake, this is a 180 degree change in policy for BSO,” he said. “It is clear and concise with few exceptions, so effective training can be developed to address future active assailants. This is the policy that should have been in place long before Feb. 14, 2018.”
While the new policy goes into affect Jan.4, it should not be interpreted as a suicide decree.
While its instructions that deputies should immediately confront an active shooter are clearer, the new policy acknowledges that rapid engagement may not always be the wisest course, the Miami Herald reported.
States the policy: “While deputies are expected to tactically intervene, there may be very limited extenuating circumstances when entry by a solo deputy must be delayed until the situation changes, or additional deputies or resources are present.”
Israel has said that the use of the word ‘may’ in the old policy allowed deputies “to think on their feet.”
“I want an effective tactical response, not a suicide response,” the sheriff told the Stoneman Douglas commission at a November meeting. “The goal of any agency’s response is to save lives. ‘May’ allows a deputy discretion.”
Nevertheless, Israel and many others harshly criticized SRO Deputy Scot Peterson for his tepid response.
Asked at a February news conference what Peterson should have done, Israel said: “Went in. Addressed the killer. Killed the killer.”
Peterson, who quickly resigned/retired following the mass murder, told other deputies over BSO’s radio to “stay away” from the area.
“I’ve been involved in writing policy probably 35 years, and we agree that Scot Peterson’s response was egregious, outrageous, unacceptable,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who sits on the commission. “But words matter, and according to your policy, he didn’t have to go in.”
The commission was established to investigate the Parkland shooting and make recommendations to Florida’s governor and legislative leaders. While the commission investigated, BSO suspended its own internal review of how it handled the shooting. After the commission began publicly presenting its findings, BSO placed two deputies on restricted duty. In addition, the captain who first took charge of the scene resigned. The active shooter policy is the latest change.
The commission’s final report could have consequences for Israel, depending on how it is interpreted by elected officials.
Also in the wake of the horror Parkland survivors filed a civil rights lawsuit against several officials claiming they did not take appropriate action to stop the Valentine’s Day massacre.