- The Washington Times
Monday, December 17, 2018

The same Florida school shooting that ignited a national gun control movement has since fueled a rallying cry for arming teachers, thanks to a devastating state report detailing the bungled response of Broward County law enforcement.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission’s recently released draft report detailed a series of mistakes, missteps and profiles in cowardice that contributed to the carnage, prompting the panel to vote 16-1 last week to recommend arming willing teachers.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who served on the commission, said the early reaction by the Broward County Sheriff’s Department should “shock the conscience of every professional law enforcement officer, as well as the community.”

“It shakes me to my core how bad it was, that initial response,” Sheriff Judd said. “You expect confusion and chaos in the first few minutes of a major event, but there needs to be chaos and confusion as we run toward the emergency, and in this event, there was chaos and confusion from non-action.”

Among the 407-page report’s findings: Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson, who was assigned to the school, was the first at the scene but failed to enter the building and told others to stay 500 feet away, in violation of widely accepted mass-shooter protocols.

Other deputies remained at the staging area, prompting the commission to recommend an internal investigation into their conduct. Capt. Jan Jordan, the incident commander, was described as “overwhelmed,” and the departmental radios failed at crucial moments.

The first officers to enter the school came from the Coral Springs Police Department, who rushed in shortly after arriving, joined by Broward officers. At that point, accused shooter Nikolas Cruz already had left the building. The Feb. 14 massacre left 17 students and faculty dead and another 17 injured.

“The absence of strong leadership and direction undoubtedly contributed to an ineffective response,” said the report, which will be presented in its final form Jan. 1 to the Florida governor and state legislature.

The Broward County school district also received its share of criticism for failing to provide officers with immediate access to school cameras, as well as failing to act on multiple warnings about the accused shooter’s threats and violent tendencies.

“There are at least six people who stated that they brought concerns about Cruz and his behavior, including discussions about Cruz being a ‘school shooter,’ to MSDS Assistant Principal Jeff Morford,” the report said.

Mr. Morford “denies every one of these reports or claims he does not recall the reports and/or discussions,” said the commission, but it recommended that the district conduct an internal investigation into whether he was aware of the threats.

The recommendation to train and arm teachers willing to carry weapons on campus comes in contrast to the high-profile March for Our Lives campaign, founded by Stoneman-Douglas students and others to fight for firearms restrictions in response to the horrific shooting.

While some commissioners initially expressed skepticism about arming teachers, all but one voted in favor of the recommendation. The lone nay vote was cast by Max Schachter, whose son Alex was killed in the shooting.

He said allowing concealed carry by faculty “creates a host of problems” and recommended funding more officers, sentiments echoed by teachers’ unions, gun-control groups and others. So far 28 states allow districts to decide whether to arm teachers pending restrictions, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center.

State Sen. Lauren Book, a Democrat, cited the conduct of Mr. Peterson, who resigned from the sheriff’s department shortly after the shooting. Asked about hiring more school-resource officers, she said, “Well, we saw how that went.”

“That school resource officer stood there for 48 minutes,” Ms. Book told WLRN-FM in Miami. “He was dropped off at the doors of the 1200 building. He did not go in. When he was dropped off at those doors, the shooter had not even gotten to the end of the first-floor hallway.”

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who was commission chairman, called Mr. Peterson a “coward” and also blasted Broward County Sgt. Brian Miller, who was placed on administrative leave last month pending a review.

Sgt. Miller “came there and he sat and he hid behind his car and he wasn’t wearing a ballistic vest, he took it out of his car and put it on, and he didn’t move,” Mr. Gualtieri told WSTP-TV in Tampa. “And he was the first sergeant on the scene. And he didn’t move. He should have been getting deputies and they should have been going into that building, but they didn’t do that.”

The report said the confusion was due in part to the Broward County sheriff’s department’s policy on active shooters, which was changed in 2016 to say that officers “may” rush in to confront shooters, not “shall,” contrary to the widely accepted national approach.

“The MSD Commission’s report lays bare the awful failures of the Broward Sheriff’s Office,” said Manhattan Institute fellow Max Eden in an email. “Their radios went down (Broward Sheriff Scott Israel was more interested in ‘community outreach’ than operational communications equipment), and their officers stood outside and twiddled their thumbs while hearing gunshots ring out from inside the school.”

Mr. Eden said he is working on a book scheduled to be published early next year titled “Why Meadow Died: The People and Policies that Created the Parkland Shooter and Endangered America’s Students” with Meadow Pollack’s father, Andrew Pollack.

Sheriff Judd said the shooting showed that relying on law enforcement to protect schools and other soft targets such as churches will inevitably fall short, given that officers take at least five minutes to respond, while the average shooting lasts two to five minutes.

“By the time the first phone call came into 911, he had already been shooting 35 seconds, and people had been killed,” said Sheriff Judd, adding, “This is not something we want to do. This is something we have to do.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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