Into the Chaos: Florida Report Details Lapses in Parkland Shooting Response

by | December 13, 2018 AT 10:10 AM

By Skyler Swisher and David Fleshler

A Florida state panel reviewing the Parkland shooting unveiled a draft report Wednesday chronicling lapses by Broward County agencies and calling for a statewide overhaul of school security measures.

The report, which is not final, concluded red flags weren't communicated, deputies didn't rush to stop the gunman and school staff committed numerous security breaches, including leaving doors unlocked and not calling a "Code Red" alarm quickly enough.

The commission's work will play a key role as lawmakers and government agencies seek to implement new safeguards and hold people accountable for lapses. Many of the initial recommendations focus on school security upgrades and standardizing procedures for identifying dangerous students. The report does not recommend new gun control policies.

Ryan Petty, a commission member whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina was killed in the attack, said the initial focus should be on quick, low-cost improvements that could produce the biggest immediate gains, from increasing school security to making sure threats are taken seriously.

"This was the most preventable school shooting that I've ever seen data on," he said. "This kid was screaming for help by publishing his intentions."

The panel _ called the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission _ is recommending that the Broward Sheriff's Office conduct an internal review of the performance of seven deputies who showed up, heard shots and failed to take steps to engage the shooter.

Deputies spent time retrieving ballistic vests and other equipment instead of rushing to confront the shooter, the report states.

That conduct was "unacceptable and contrary to accepted protocol under which the deputies should have immediately moved towards the gunshots to confront the shooter," the report concluded.

The report also said that other deputies did respond properly.

The panel wants every school district to craft detailed written policies for responding to a shooter on campus. The policies would make clear that any school personnel could call a Code Red alarm. Hard corners, places where students could hide from a gunman, need to be created in classrooms.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the chairman of the commission, said school districts need to face consequences if they don't act quickly.

"There is a culture problem in the Florida schools, and the culture problem is that they view security as a thorn in their side, as a pain in their neck," he said

The report calls on law enforcement agencies to craft policies making clear that shooters should be confronted. Broward County's policy states that law enforcement "may" confront a threat, while other agencies have policies stating that they "will" confront a shooter. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said he wanted his deputies to have discretion and did not want to encourage them to engage in "suicide missions," the report states.

The report also found problems with command and control in the initial time of the crisis.

"There was abundant confusion over the location of the command post and the role of the staging area. This stemmed from an absence of command and control and an ineffective radio system," the report said.

Then, referring to the sheriff's office and Coral Springs police and fire departments, it said, "A unified command consisting of command staff from BSO, CSPD, and CSFD took an excessive amount of time to establish."

The Coral Springs Police Department's officers went more aggressively toward where they thought the shooter was. One reason, the report found, was that they had received more intensive training than Broward Sheriff's deputies in dealing with active shooters.

Coral Springs Police officers consistently praised their training as preparing them for a proper response. Without hesitation, each officer knew the active shooter training they had received annually for the past several years, the report said. "They had no difficulty in identifying the proper response to an active shooter."

"On the other hand, Broward Sheriff's Office deputies remembered that they attended training in the past few years, but some could not remember the last time they attended active shooter training. Some BSO deputies could not even recall the type of training they received."

The report stressed the need for greater communication among agencies. Between the time shooter Nikolas Cruz was 3 years old in January 2002 and the time he was 19 years old in January, there were 69 documented incidents where Cruz threatened someone, engaged in violence, talked about guns or other weapons or engaged in other concerning behavior, according to the report.

The final report will be presented to the governor and state Legislature by Jan. 1.

Established after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took 17 lives, the commission consists of law enforcement officers, public officials and parents of the slain students.

Democratic State Rep. Jared Moskowtiz, whose district includes the Parkland area, said he expects the report will play a key role in spurring change during the next legislative session.

"I think you'll see dramatic action from the Legislature and the governor-elect's office," he said. "The only one responsible for what happened is the Parkland shooter, but several significant government failures compounded significantly. The Legislature is going to look for accountability on that."

(c)2018 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)