Softened Disciplinary Policies of Broward County Sheriff and Public Schools Criticized After Stoneman Douglas High School Mass Shooting


Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel’s leadership and Broward County Sheriff’s deputies that “took a position” outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School instead of facing a mass shooter, are facing increasing criticism for cowardice less than two weeks after the mass shooting at the Parkland, Florida high school. Many analysts are also wondering why sheriff’s deputies weren’t equipped with long guns themselves, or why the first deputies on the scene weren’t deploying their own rifles IF THEY DID have them in their police vehicles.

National and local media last week were learning that neighboring Coral Springs police officers were the first police officers to enter the high school when the mass shooting was occurring. In a press conference Thursday, February 22, 2018, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel was asked by media which law enforcement agency went in first. He replied, it “doesn’t matter who went in first” or “what order you went in … What matters is that when we, in law enforcement, arrive at an active shooter, we go in and address the target.” The Broward County sheriff added, “and that’s what should’ve been done.”

Broward County Public Schools (BCPS): Student-Related Arrests Down 65%

To ensure all students have the ability to complete their education and to eliminate the “school house to jailhouse pipeline,” Superintendent Runcie led BCPS efforts to become a national model for ending zero tolerance policies for non-violent offences in schools. With the support of the School Board and through collaborative community efforts, BCPS has instituted new, effective practices for handling student behavior incidents, without resorting to law enforcement involvement. Student-related arrests are down by 65% since Runcie’s arrival.

— Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Bio

In Broward County, news spread fast last week that a prolonged influence of school programs may have hampered efforts of law enforcement officers to do their jobs, which led to unenforced laws in the high school and in the community, which may have resulted in a community disorder that ripened conditions for unanswered calls regarding investigation of suspicious incidents and suspicious people. There are reports of failure to help troubled teens; and failures to enforce criminal violations at schools and make arrests at schools, and even failure to properly report the discovery of drugs on campus.

The reason for the school district’s reluctance to let police do their jobs? Some are saying the reason is the Broward County Public Schools’ efforts to achieve a good report card for the high school with low crime statistics, which is needed for successful review of eligibility of federal funding for school programs that serve to decrease school dropouts, suspensions and expulsions. In other words, the Broward County Public Schools allegedly persuaded the Broward County Sheriff’s Office to look the other way or modify reality with incomplete documentation in a partnership of political corruption, according to beliefs of some people in Broward County.

The process has been ongoing since at least 2011, when some locals advocated the PROMISE program, which was designed to promote better outcomes for troubled children — especially minorities. Advocates of the PROMISE program’s aim to end disproportionate student arrests and suspensions lauded the Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) for reversing the “School-to-Prison pipeline” and for the elimination of the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Committee — a name that refers to the former law enforcement-school district complex that resulted in a disproportionate number of minorities ending up in prison after dropping out of school. A reduction of suspensions and arrests is what civil-rights groups like the NAACP and the racial justice political advocacy organization “Advancement Project” say results in reduced dropouts and incarceration for many minority students.

Instead of suspensions, students were referred to the PROMISE program, where they received counseling for several days and then returned to school. Many non-violent misdemeanors no longer required an arrest; however, sheriff’s deputies and police officers could override the program policy if they feel it was necessary. The Broward County school district’s Office of Minority Male Achievement reviews data to ensure that punishments for minor infractions and racial disparities are on the decline, according to Brye Wilson Stucki’s article in The American Prospect.

Superintendent of Broward County Public Schools Robert Runcie, who previously held strategic leadership positions with Chicago Public Schools, arrived in Broward County in 2011 to bring changes to decrease the use of harsh punishments for minor misbehavior and stem the flow in the School-to-Prison pipeline. The Broward County Public Schools amended their discipline codes, prohibited some types of arrests, and developed alternatives to suspension with the help of a group that included a member of the local NAACP, a school board member, a public defender, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, a state prosecutor, and others. In early November 2013, Miami Herald reporter’s David Smiley and Michael Vasquez wrote that suspensions were down 40 percent and arrests were cut in half. They reported that discouragement of hard-line tactics began in 2009, after the Florida Legislature softened a state “zero tolerance” law that required police action for even minor misdemeanors. The amended law encouraged school districts to find alternatives to calling police for issues like small fights and minor thefts. Prior to the change, thousands of students were sent directly to jail from South Florida schools every years.

Opponents of the program, including some teachers, have argued that the anti-disciplinary movement has gone too far, allowing disruptive students to remain in classrooms, and resulting in suffering for productive students. Some in Broward County suspect the lenient discipline has frustrated police, promoted falsification of reports, and sown the seeds for police inaction that may have contributed to complex problems that led to the most serious side effect — a mass shooting, such as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting.

Jeff Bell, President of the Broward County Sheriff’s Deputies Association faults the current policies of the local school district for allowing an environment to develop that hampered law enforcement with the prevention of a mass shooting type incident, saying Broward County School Board did not want police officers making arrests on the school campus and that they didn’t want drugs to be found on campus, because high crime statistics at schools limits funding from the federal government programs.

See also …

The American Prospect Reversing Broward County’s School-to-Prison Pipeline

Miami Herald Broward, Miami-Dade work to close the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’

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Fox News Tucker Carlson: The schools failed, the local police failed, the Florida state bureaucracy failed, the officer on duty failed, the FBI failed. The government’s first duty is protecting citizens. They failed. Ultimately, citizens have to defend themselves. Yet the same government officials who failed to protect us are saying we don’t have a right to do that.

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