The Failures of Sheriff Scott Israel: A Local Perspective
Nearly a year after the tragic massacre of 17 students and faculty in Parkland a small measure of justice finally seems in sight.
Sometimes stories arise that are inextricably intertwined with our personal experiences to the point that it becomes arguably dishonest to maintain a veneer of journalistic objectivity.
As such, when it comes to the Parkland Shooting, let me break the fourth wall quickly as it were and be plain in stating this is a story that I do in fact find myself utterly inextricably intertwined with; to the point I briefly considered a pseudonym here to avoid uncomfortable hometown interactions. But alas, how can one claim their words have merit if they can’t stand by them?
Perhaps merely growing up and living directly across the street from the now notorious Stoneman Douglas high school wouldn’t have been enough to engulf me. But nearly two decades of my family attending that place, including myself; decades spent being mentored by coaches, teachers, and friends like deservedly familiar hero Aaron Feis; decades culminating in my sister narrowly escaping death her freshman year, have more than sufficed in fomenting a reluctant quest to see this affair to a just end, and say something about it otherwise.
Thankfully I can hesitantly declare now – with the first of many painful annual anniversaries of the tragedy on the horizon – it appears victims might be getting some small semblance of justice in the form of the downfall of the Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, the man who oversaw one of the worst police responses to a mass shooting in the post-Columbine era. The local mainstay Sun-Sentinel reports,
“Gov. Ron DeSantis removed Broward Sheriff Scott Israel from office Friday, replacing him after 10 months of turmoil spawned by the slaughter of 17 staff and students in Parkland.
DeSantis announced the suspension at the Broward Sheriff’s Office headquarters while the displaced former sheriff prepared his response from a church in northwest Fort Lauderdale.
“I have no interest in dancing on Scott Israel’s political grave,” DeSantis said of the Democratic former sheriff, “but suffice it to say the massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff’s department.”
In his executive order, the governor cited Israel for incompetence and neglect of duty. DeSantis said Israel “egregiously failed in his duties” by not properly training deputies and not maintaining “a culture of vigilance and thoroughness,” among other weaknesses.
The suspension caps a nearly year-long series of revelations that exposed the failure of Broward sheriff’s deputies to run in to save children at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as a former student marched through the halls with an assault rifle.”
I grew up amply around Scott Israel, both before and during his time in office. I played football with some of his sons on the Douglas team, as did my younger brother. There was a time where they could be considered friends. In fact, I spent my senior year blocking for Israel’s talented son at quarterback. He himself spent a decent chunk of time volunteering as an assistant coach. The point of this is while I’d be lying to claim them as close, they’re certainly familiar acquaintances, as people in a (once) small town like Parkland tend to be.
As such let me say this; I don’t necessarily believe Scott Israel is some sort of evil man. *But*, he was without a shred of doubt a grossly incompetent sheriff who did allow evil things to happen. Israel may not be malicious in character; or he might be I cannot fairly claim to know. But he objectively abetted evil, whether he can see that through a political ego or not.
Scott Israel’s sheriff department proved to be not only inadequately prepared and trained for such an encounter but staffed in its near entirety by pathetic cowards and/or incompetent buffoons at all ranks. This morally and professionally bankrupt culture was not only permitted to wallow as such by Israel, but actively encouraged by genuinely disgusting changes made to doctrine by his own hand. Let’s dig in a bit.
The Extent of BSO’s Inadequacy
First and foremost for the most far-and-away complete description and best spatially oriented portrayal of the shooting timetable look over the labor of love assembled by the Sun Sentinel *HERE*. I’d highly recommend going through it to truly comprehend the sheer inadequacy of BSO’s response as it truly synthesizes the myriad of information into a clear narrative complete with real time locations of individuals and even includes audio from all radio and phone chatter. Here at PBP we have provided a simpler timeline from synthesized information below.
- 2:22 pm: The first 911 call regarding the shooting begins. Despite Israel’s Deputy Scot Peterson being on Douglas’ campus and aware, he has not begun to act. Several people are already dead.
- 2:23 pm: Peterson finally arrives on the east side of the site. He draws his gun, but he fails to go inside the building. Over his police radio he says he can hear firecrackers or “possible shots fired” in the building. The statement conflicts with his later account where he would lie that he was unsure where the sounds were coming from. Two unarmed campus staff, Aaron Feis and Chris Hixon have both already attempted to halt the shooter despite being unarmed civilians. Both would die trying.
- 2:24 pm: Peterson, the only armed man on campus, does not act directly but rather hides several buildings away, instead radioing to block off the nearby intersection. His training actually permits this (we’ll get to that in a moment).
- 2:25 pm: Another Deputy, Kratz, finally arrives but claims to be hearing shots northwest of the actual massacre. Deputy Kratz’s unfamiliarity with basic firearm physics will cost lives and delay and confuse the response.
- Peterson as officer on scene absent superiors, despite receiving backup, calls for a school lockdown instead of moving to eliminate the shooter.
- 2:26 pm: Four more deputies arrive and stop on the road north of campus. Despite now having 6 armed officers no order comes from Israel’s brass to engage the shooter and no initiative is taken by any on scene, despite auditory gunshots as more children are murdered.
- Why? Since Columbine, officers are taught to rush toward gunshots and neutralize the killer. Broward deputies don’t do so because Scott Israel later reveals that he personally changed department policy to say that deputies “may” instead of “shall” rush in.
- 2:27 pm: Israel now has Eight deputies on scene including ranking officers. They listen to several more gunshots but remain in hiding behind cover despite taking no fire. The shooting will end here unchallenged
- 2:28 pm: The shooter ditches their weapon and equipment and flees the building, running across the campus before making an unchallenged exit. Despite their sole action being formation of a ‘perimeter’ the near dozen present BSO deputies fail to even notice. They are all hiding.
- Israel’s right hand and acting commander, Capt. Jan Jordan briefly comes on campus before returning to hide in her car with a radio system. She emphasizes Israel’s fatally flawed doctrine in maintaining a perimeter and fails to organize the officers from a set command post as doctrine demands. The shooter is already gone.
- 2:33 pm: Finally, Coral Springs officers – and thus not pathetic wrongly trained cowards – reach the scene. Four of them immediately breach the building and begin working through the carnage to locate the shooter BSO claims is still on scene and extract wounded. Israel’s deputies, including Peterson, are still hiding.
- 2:34 pm: From his hiding spot Peterson tells Coral Springs Personnel that the shooter is still present. He is not, but repeated false warning from multiple BSO personnel will delay even their counterparts.
- 2:35 pm: William Hanks is the first Broward deputy to enter the building. Coral Springs officers have been inside for minutes by this point. The arduous process of clearing and evacuating the building will soon ensue, far too late for many critically wounded.
- 3:11 pm: Deputy Peterson leaves his hiding spot for the first time in nearly an hour. He has been watching other officers enter the building for a half hour.
A Denial of Failure: Narcissism or Desperation?
If Scott Israel wanted to maintain any semblance of respect, either personal or professional, to do so genuinely wouldn’t be out of reach. The clear route to take when one’s organization so fantastically falls short of its basic duties is to accept the failure and truly work to improve it, or resign with grace. After all, Israel may have trained Peterson and co and shaped their failed response, but he isn’t the actual man who hid while children were slaughtered himself, etc.
The problem however is that Israel appears to, incredibly, believe he’s done no wrong; and what’s more that he’s worthy of praise. The trusty Sun-Sentinel expands on this explaining,
“A review of Israel’s performance since then shows continued excuses, falsehoods and inaction, revealing a leader who appears unwilling or incapable of addressing deep-rooted problems under his leadership. Despite revelations that many of his deputies didn’t try to enter the school while shots were fired, Israel has been slow to recognize the problem or impose discipline.
The sheriff, in testimony to a state commission, misstated facts about what deputies and commanders knew during the crisis. In public statements, he has glossed over failures and described his leadership as exceptional, a response that came as no surprise to those who knew him.
After a mass murder at Fort Lauderdale’s airport, he failed to address problems that would later cripple his agency’s response in Parkland. And a highly critical internal report about the agency’s performance at the airport, obtained by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, was scrubbed of dozens of recommendations and revised with a statement praising the sheriff.”
In short, Scott Israel is more concerned with failing to preserve what one might be forgiven to assume was (and I mean ‘was’ Scott) an ambitious political agenda than with making substantial progress on rectifying what he did to permit a mass murder under his lack of oversight.
He’s more overtly concerned with avoiding the reputation-suicide that comes with being held responsible for creating a police department unable to cope with serious threats than actually fixing that; a department we should emphasize where he made engaging school shooters optional. But the bright spot of news is people across the political spectrum, even some of Israel’s fellow Democrats, are noticing and saying so.
Don’t just take my word for it; take a gander at Israel getting grilled on CNN as he’s manhandled on air for attempting to boast of his leadership while his direct mismanagement is being laid out on national television before him. Its genuinely painful.
I don’t hate the man Scott Israel. Again, I’m not inclined to regard him as an evil man who sleeps soundly with the death of 17 people on his watch. After all, I’ve spent enough time with and around the guy to know he isn’t a sociopath or megalomaniac.
But I do not respect the man Scott Israel. I cannot respect a man who chooses political expediency over decency. I cannot respect a man who when presented with overwhelming evidence of their failures instead turns to boast of nonexistent successes. And above all else, I cannot respect a man who trains armed and armored officers of the law to hide while children are massacred.
In fact, only cowards and fools; fellow lacking men and women could respect such a man as a leader. And that simple truth, ladies and gentlemen, is how the ineptitude, and outright pathetic cowardice, of the BSO on that fateful day came to be.