OPINION | This article contains political commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
Substandard leadership during two mass shootings in one sheriff’s career was enough to cost him his job. The Florida Senate voted 25-15 to uphold the executive suspension order of Gov. Ron DeSantis, permanently removing Scott Israel from office.
The general consensus: Israel neglected his responsibilities and endangered public safety. Worst of all, his leadership failure and incompetence are being blamed, at least in part, for the massacre at Marjory Stone Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.
The gunman, Nikolas Cruz, shot and killed 17 and wounded 17 more. Israel’s critics say that might have been avoided, except:
1) He failed to properly handle tips his department received about Cruz leading up to the shooting.
2) He failed to rush to confront the shooter (the video of disgraced school resource officer Scot Peterson just standing outside the building didn’t help refute this allegation; neither did the obvious inaction of several other deputies).
There was a lot of failure involved; of that, there is no doubt.
Last month, a special master investigator found that the Parkland tragedy was the fault of multiple individual failures and recommended that Israel be reinstated. He had been suspended pending the investigation; his subsequent challenge of that suspension failed.
The attack lasted only four minutes. Even if the investigator’s findings were accurate, would better leadership or a faster response time have made a difference in the outcome? We just don’t know.
At first glance, it may seem as if Israel is an unlucky scapegoat intended to soothe the angry, grief-stricken families of the victims. Call me cynical, but DeSantis also may have removed Israel from office at least in part to appease voters – after all, he will be eligible for reelection in 2022.
As the sheriff, Israel should be held accountable for his own negligent leadership and for the action – or inaction – of his officers. Four Broward County Sheriff’s Department officers were fired over failure to confront the shooter. But Israel was the one, after all, who rewrote the verbiage of the department’s policy so officers “may” go inside during an active shooting, instead of “shall,” as the original version stated.
Even so, Israel suspended and eventually fired the officers – Peterson, for adhering to policy and procedures, and remaining outside. I can’t decide which one of these fine lawmen most deserves the nickname “The Coward of Broward,” although the internet awarded it to Peterson. In all fairness, at least Peterson has shown remorse for his decision.
Botched responses to two mass shootings notwithstanding, Israel proved himself unworthy of the badge in other ways. He had shown incompetence before the Parkland attack, during the 2017 shooting at Terminal 2 of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. And before that, he hired campaign supporters and chose not to report some fairly luxurious gifts. Pretty shady, at best.
The horrific tragedy in Parkland wrought irrevocable changes in so many lives. But have the incident and its aftermath changed Israel?
I want to extend once again my sympathies to the families of the Parkland victims. I am filled with sorrow for your loss. My family and I continue to keep you in our prayers.
I truly thank my family for their… https://t.co/TRc8dEZoDl
— Scott J. Israel (@ScottJIsrael) January 11, 2019
Although in January Israel made his condolences to the victims’ families, he had this to say after the ruling:
“Law enforcement in Florida fundamentally changed tonight. The office of sheriff, once accountable to the people and the law…is now subject to the petulant whims, political paybacks and personal piques of partisan tyrants in Tallahassee.”
It may be true that some political paybacks and personal vendettas were at play. That is often the case. Still, it seems that Israel has been more concerned with protecting himself and keeping his job than with actually doing what he was elected to do. A lot of innocent lives were lost on his watch; he has to live with that.
And in truth, Israel has been held accountable to both the people and the law. The people no longer had confidence in him, and an obscure state law, circa 1868, gave Gov. DeSantis and the Florida Senate sufficient ammunition to remove him from office. And I believe they can live with that.
Some claim that Florida sheriffs view Israel’s removal from office as an anti-law enforcement executive power play, and feel that this sets a dangerous precedent for future expulsions. It seems that any honest law enforcement officer who takes seriously his sworn duty to serve and protect the public should have no cause to worry about job security.
Unbelievably, Israel has the unmitigated gall to say that he vows to run for office again in 2020. We’ll wait for those election night returns…with popcorn. Until then, there’s a new lawman in town: Sheriff Gregory Tony.