As more and more details of the mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida come out, we also hear more about the actions, or inaction, of some of the Broward County Deputies at the scene during the murder response.
First, let me give you some background. I was a Sgt. In the 3rd Infantry Division, 981st Military Police Company. My job was to train security forces that guarded our nation’s nuclear weapons. After leaving the Army I became a Deputy Sheriff in Broward County Florida. I now train law enforcement recruits, people who want to be police officers, and also police officers in firearms and various police topics and tactics for a living. I have been doing so for the last 24+ years. I was a Broward Deputy myself back in the 1980’s and 90’s. I left the Broward Sheriffs’ Office in 1996 when I took a position as a Police Commander at Santa Fe College and took over supervising the Law Enforcement and Corrections Academies. I say all that so you know where I am getting my view and knowledge.
Police officers these days are facing more things that officers’ years ago did not have to face. Terrorism, homegrown radicals, mass murderers and more. Years ago officers in Chicago, New York, and some other large cities faced gangs and organized crime groups armed with machine guns and grenades. Today is not that much different. Today’s police are better equipped and trained than officers of those times.
What you cannot train for and cannot know until it happens is how you will react when the proverbial SHTF situation occurs. Having been involved in shootings myself, and multiple armed encounters with suspects, I can tell you I did not know how I would react, but ultimately I acted how I had been trained. But one important factor is I am not just talking about physical training like firearms and defensive tactics, but also mental training.
As my friend, mentor and favorite training officer I ever had, Sgt. Gerald Ward of the Cooper City Police Department once said to me, “We do not run away or hide, we move to the sound of the gunshots and put an end to it.” Gerry was a Viet Nam Marine Veteran and a really great cop. I was told over and over again, and continued to do this throughout my 35 years as a police officer, to visualize myself in situations I was heading into and see myself fighting my way through it. I visualized myself being shot at, and returning fire (that happened), I visualized myself getting in physical fights with suspects, and winning, and that happened many times, even though I was injured also on occasion. I prepared myself mentally to do what I was expected to do and would not allow myself any other outcome.
I worked with many Deputies and police officers over the years. Some I had standing by my side when we confronted armed suspects trying to pull guns on us and shoot us. One particular suspect tried to pull a .45 semi-auto on myself and Dep. James Garrison. Jamie and I both at the same time got hold of the guy and it was quick and dirty, but we walked away and he went to prison. I knew how Jamie would react, and he knew how I would. MAny days I was afraid while working as acop, and those days I just had to push through it and move on.
So I know many brave, upstanding law enforcement officers. I have trained thousands of them. And the thing that bothers me about this recent mass murder, besides the act itself and the victims, is the fact that it appears that some Deputies failed to take action while students were inside possibly being shot.
We train over and over for just such events. We go over what to do and how to do it. Without giving away our tactics and techniques, we are to locate, isolate and neutralize the threat. Either alone or as a small team, we are to go in and stop the threat.
What we try to train the new recruits and officers about is that you may someday have to put yourself in the direct line of danger. You may have to be the one to distract the threat away from the innocents and be the one that is being shot at (and hopefully returning fire also). You may even be shot or injured and must continue to fight on protecting those that you swore to protect. We tell them, jokingly yet in all seriousness, that you are not out of the fight until you are dead. When this reality hits some recruits, they quit the program. Which we would rather they do than get into the middle of a life and death struggle, and then realize they cannot take the needed action.
As police officers, we are not afforded the luxury of waiting sometimes for more help to arrive. We are the help that others have come to rely on. We must take action and when we do not, others may die as a result of our inaction.
One way to train yourself to be ready for these life and death situations, and one that we have found that works is to “bulletproof” your mind. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a fantastic speaker on this topic has a 1 and 2 day series of speeches he gives all around the world on this very topic. I have heard Dave speak at least eight times and will attend again if given the chance. Something that those of us who choose to live the life of service to our fellow man can do to try and make sure that is along and faithful service, is to do as much as we can to prepare for these very incidents.
So I come full circle, back to the murders in Parkland. The situation surrounding the deputies that did not take the appropriate action of confronting the shooter as soon as they possibly could should be investigated fully. And short of any currently unforeseen reason, should face the punishment that is due them for such lack of action. They will have to live with their action (or lack thereof) but the victims of the mass murderer are not as lucky.
To the law abiding public out there who have lost some faith in the police forces that protect them because of this, do not think that the actions of a few represent or are indicative of the whole. There are far more brave, noble and ethical officers out there than those who are not.