'Rifles From This Point Forward': Parkland's County Arms School Deputies

by | February 22, 2018 AT 10:35 AM

By Charles Rabin and David Ovalle

While lawmakers and activists in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., furiously debate gun control, deputies in Broward County will be adding firepower to deal with the threat of school shooters, effective immediately.

Broward's top cop on Wednesday said that deputies assigned to school campuses will now be allowed to carry rifles on school grounds.

"Rifles from this point forward," Broward Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, adding: "We need to be able to defeat any threat on campus."

The announcement comes as authorities are reviewing the law-enforcement response to the worst school shooting in Florida history. Last week, former student Nikolas Cruz _ armed with an AR-15 and extra ammunition _ walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and mowed down dozens of people, killing 17 and wounding 15 others.

Jailed and charged with murder, Cruz likely faces the death penalty if convicted.

After a six-minute rampage in the hallways of one of the school buildings, Cruz ditched his weapon and ammo and blended in with students fleeing the carnage. A Coral Springs patrol officer captured him a little more than an hour later, after Cruz stopped at a Wal-Mart and a McDonald's.

The Broward Sheriff's Office is reviewing whether deputies' response was adequate _ including whether an armed officer assigned to the sprawling campus did enough. The deputy did not fire his weapon and his actions would be "scrutinized," Israel said.

He also said BSO was reviewing whether the first officers on the scene rushed into the school, as they are trained to do when an active shooter is on the rampage. So far, police have not determined which officers from which agencies were first to enter Building 12, the scene of the violence. Israel did say BSO deputies "pulled people out, saved lives."

Jeff Bell, the president of the Broward Sheriff's Office Deputies Association, said the union was satisfied with the response time of the cops who rushed to the scene. "Our guys could still hear the final barrage of gunfire as they arrived," Bell said.

The shooter, however, slipped away before cops could find him in the chaos.

"Forty-five acres, just over 3,000 students and you're looking for one. Certainly makes it more difficult," Bell said.

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie confirmed Wednesday that he agreed with the proposal to have deputies wield rifles at schools. The officers are likely to be equipped with high capacity weapons similar to the AR-15.

The sheriff would not take questions on the announcement, leaving many details unclear. He did not say if campus deputies would be allowed to carry the weapons openly _ or have to store them somewhere secure until a threat emerges.

He also did not say if BSO would be paying for the weapons.

For several years, the police union has been pushing BSO, unsuccessfully, to foot the bill for 5.56-caliber rifles for patrol officers, who are allowed to carry them now _ but only if they pay for the weapons themselves. Deputies must be certified to carry rifles on duty and generally keep them in their patrol cars.

Bell said he was "100 percent on board" with Israel's announcement. "We have to be able to match firepower with firepower," he said.

(c)2018 Miami Herald