OPINION: Sheriff Israel failed to instill lessons learned almost 20 years ago

OPINION: Sheriff Israel failed to instill lessons learned almost 20 years ago

PHOTO: The 1999 shooting at Columbine High School made law enforcement agencies across the country rethink their tactics during active shooter situations. The reaction of officers on the scene in Florida earlier this month indicates that these lessons were not instilled at the Broward County Sheriff's Office almost 20 years later. (File Photos)

By Tyler Pruett, Managing Editor 


RAINSVILLE, Ala. — On February 14, 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire on students and faculty at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In the aftermath of the deadly shooting, which killed 17 students and injured many others, it has came to light that the school resource officer, Deputy Scot Peterson, took a "tactical position" and failed to even enter the school for the duration of the shooting.

Sheriff of Broward County Florida, Scott Israel. (Broward County Sheriff's Office)

While not yet confirmed, The Coral Springs Police Department also alleges that three other deputies from the Broward County Sheriff's Office remained outside the building while the situation was ongoing. If all these allegations are true (in the case of Deputy Peterson, the account has been confirmed) it shows a lack of training in active shooter protocol and a failure to heed the lessons learned in Columbine, Colorado; which occurred almost 20 years ago.

At approximately 11:19 am on April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire at Columbine High School after homemade explosives they had planted in the school's cafeteria failed to detonate. Harris and Klebold began firing outside of the school; killing one student and severely injuring six more even before entering the facility.

School Resource Officer Deputy Neil Gardner fired four rounds from his service pistol (all misses) at Harris from the school parking lot; approximately five minutes after the shooting began. After engaging in the brief firefight, Gardner called for backup and remained outside of the school. Two additional deputies, who were nearby when the incident began, assisted the wounded outside of the school and awaited SWAT. These actions, in 1999, followed existing protocols for this type of situation.

As these three deputies and additional units arrived and remained outside of the school, the two shooters continued throwing pipe bombs and shooting students inside of the school. Around 11:29 am (10 minutes after the shooting began), Klebold and Harris entered the school's library where 52 students, two teachers, and two librarians were hiding. The shooters remained in the library for an additional 7 minutes while officers remained outside the building. 12 students were injured and 10 more were killed in the Library alone during this time period.

At 11:36 am, the shooters left the library and wandered around the school; shooting aimlessly and detonating additional homemade bombs, while some students and teachers continued to hide in the school. This continued until approximately 12:08 pm; when Klebold and Harris took their own lives. While the shooting ceased at this point, it was still an additional hour (1:09 pm) until two SWAT team members finally entered the building and cleared each room. Even after law enforcement had finally entered the building, one student wounded in the library (Patrick Ireland) had to crawl to a window and jump out to receive aid; this occurred at 2:38 pm.

Klebold and Harris fired a total of 188 rounds from a 9mm TEC-9, a Hi-Point 9mm carbine, and two 12 gauge shotguns over the course of roughly an hour. Around 110 minutes elapsed between the time the first shot was fired by the shooters until law enforcement entered the building. (It's also important to note, but the subject of a different article, that a Federal "Assault Weapons Ban" was in place from 1994 until 2004.)

While the Columbine shooting lasted almost an hour, the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School this month only lasted roughly six minutes. In the wake of Columbine, law enforcement agencies across the country have trained their officers in updated protocols, which require the first officer(s) on the scene to immediately confront the shooter to minimize the loss of life.

To put it in perspective under the updated protocols, if an active shooting occurs, the first officer(s) on the scene must move as quickly as possible to locate the shooter and attempt to neutralize the threat. The reasoning behind these tactics is that every second a shooter is forced to engage law enforcement or security personnel, is a second that the shooter is not firing on their intended victims.

This tactic also requires that officers on the scene ignore wounded students until it's confirmed the shooter(s) is down. While it is has hard to imagine ignoring a wounded child when responding to a scene; even 30 seconds spent helping one wounded student may give the shooter time to kill or wound 10 more. After the shooter is incapacitated and it appears there are no more additional threats, then all efforts must be directed towards helping the injured. Even in the event a stray bullet fired from an officer's weapon at a shooter strikes a bystander, stray bullets are less of a threat to innocents than aimed fire from a gunman intent on killing as many as possible.

If "running towards the gunfire" leads to the officer's death, the time the shooter spends engaging the responding officer can save multiple lives. While this outcome is hard to stomach for some, those that wear a badge have sworn an oath to protect those in need and Columbine made it clear that aggressively engaging the threat is the best way to do that.

In 1999, if Deputy Neil Gardner had pursued Harris into Columbine High School and continued to engage the threat, he may very well have taken one shooter out of the fight and saved many lives. Even if Gardner were killed, he still would have delayed the shooters' actions and potentially saved lives. Gardner was following his training and protocols at the time, but in 2018, the Broward County Sheriff's Office does not have this excuse.

Yesterday, Peterson's lawyer issued a statement that attempted to explain his clients actions; telling NBC News that he, "thought that the shots were coming from outside," which was why he "took up a tactical position." Even if true, Peterson made no attempt to immediately find the shooter, or enter the building to make sure the students he was assigned to protect were safe.

After every shooting incident, we can guarantee the "Monday Morning Quaterbacks" will be all over the network news; stating what should or shouldn't have been done. This is different when almost the same situation played out 20 years ago, and law enforcement reacted the same way in 2018.

This leads one to question how seriously leadership at the Broward County Sheriff's Office took this training.....