In the wake of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, reports of egregious errors by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office before, during, and after the attack have been mounting. First as a trickle, then as a flood, the mismanagement and dereliction of duty displayed by the force led by Sheriff Scott Israel has gone from troubling to downright damning.
At this point, any reasonable reading of the facts can only lead to one conclusion: Israel must resign.
Failure Before The Shooting
During a heated CNN town hall last week, Israel admonished National Rifle Association spokesperson Dana Loesch for daring to suggest his department had failed to follow up on huge red flags regarding the suspect. At the time it was believed the department had responded to 23 calls regarding the shooter. Yesterday BuzzFeed reported that there were an additional 22 calls, bringing the total to 45. The shooter wasn’t just a blip on the radar, he was a blimp on the radar.
Israel claimed that none of these calls led to anything actionable by the department. But we now know that the suspect made a specific threat to commit the school shooting and that the sheriff’s department was not only aware of it, but they passed it along to the school resource officer at Stoneman Douglas. That threat was actionable, yet no actions were taken.
The Panicked Response
The day after the CNN town hall, information emerged that the school’s armed resource officer under Israel’s command, Scot Peterson, had failed to enter the building and confront the shooter during the massacre. In his original response to this revelation, Israel confirmed that the officer should have entered the building to confront and kill the killer.
Yesterday in an interview with a local NBC news affiliate, Israel demurred regarding any responsibility for his officer’s inaction. He said, “I gave him a gun, I gave him a badge, I gave him training. If he didn’t have the heart to go in, that’s not my responsibility.” Even if Peterson’s failure to do his duty was an isolated incident, the notion that the head of the department has no responsibility for his own officer is troubling. But now it appears this was not isolated cowardly behavior from Israel’s officers.
Later in the week, reports emerged that another three sheriff’s deputies were also outside of the school, by some descriptions cowering by their cars, when Coral Springs police officers arrived on the scene. The department is investigating the report, but has issued no denial of these claims. Presumably these deputies were also given guns, badges, and training by Israel, and also failed miserably in their duty. How many of his officers have to shirk their duty while kids are shot to death before it is the sheriff’s responsibility?
Also, during the response to the shooting, officers viewed security camera footage to determine the whereabouts of the shooter. For several minutes, officers believed they were seeing live images of the killer roaming the second floor of the school. In fact, the footage was on a 20-minute delay and the shooter was on his way to Walmart to buy a soda. The sheriff’s department called this lapse a communications mistake.
Taking No Responsibility
In the days since the shooting, as allegations of incompetence and misconduct stacked up, Sheriff Israel has shown absolutely no willingness to accept any responsibility for the gross failures of his department. Yesterday, in an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN, Israel was asked about how his department dropped the ball. His shocking response was the playful old quip, “If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts…” Even Tapper, who hosted the town hall and is a former gun control spokesman, seemed shocked. He reminded the sheriff that they were talking about an incident that left 17 people dead.
But that response, as horrible as it was, wasn’t even the height of Israel’s bizarre hubris yesterday. He also claimed he has provided “excellent leadership” to the department. Not only is his assessment of his own leadership delusional, it’s dangerous. Israel assures us that independent investigators will look into the actions of his department and assess what went wrong. But given his own assessment, that he did a bang-up job, how can anyone have confidence that he will implement any changes that investigators may recommend?
Had Israel responded to the shocking and obvious failures of his department by admitting very bad mistakes were made by himself and others, had he acknowledged those mistakes and promised to do all in his power to do a better job, then maybe continuing his tenure as sheriff could be a reasonable option. As it stands, his refusal to do so makes it clear to any reasonable person that he has absolutely no business being the sheriff of anything, let alone one of the largest police departments in the country.
We give deference to law enforcement officials because they have a difficult and often thankless job. Everyone makes mistakes. When most of us make mistakes at work, it is embarrassing, costly, or detrimental to customers or coworkers. When police make mistakes, they can have devastating, even deadly consequences. But Israel didn’t make a mistake. He and his department were involved in a pattern of incompetence before, during, and after the shooting that cannot be excused as mere pressures of the job.
Our society’s response to the tragedy at Parkland has been disheartening. An event that should have brought us together to find solutions has put us at each other’s throats. There is likely blame for that on all sides. But wherever one stands on gun control, the National Rifle Association, or the wisdom of using traumatized students as political pundits, we should all be able to agree that the Broward County Sheriff’s Office failed, and failed badly.
In light of the horrendous failures he presided over, Sheriff Scott Israel must resign.