Let’s take the finger-pointing, the personal animus and the face-saving rhetoric out of the “who did, and didn’t, do what” as Nikolas Cruz blasted 150 bullets from his AR-15 semiautomatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that day.
As a Miami Herald report unearthed, the technical failures, too, played a significant role in the extent of Cruz’s carnage on Feb. 14. That’s why upgrades to Broward County’s aging police radio system can’t come soon enough.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating police departments’ Parkland response. So is a special commission created by the Florida Legislature. Damning video shows a Broward Sheriff’s deputy standing outside the school building as the shooting and killing were going on inside. Coral Springs officers, who charged into the building once they arrived, were appalled to find their BSO counterparts hunkered down behind their cars. The investigations will have to sort out culpability for failing to even attempt to confront and subdue Cruz, the shooter.
But the bad decisions made on the ground during and after the shooting cannot be ascribed solely to possibly derelict deputies. Good decision-making and smart moves were hindered by officers’ inability to talk to each other and their supervisors when it mattered most. We’re convinced that the waste of precious minutes cost lives.
Basically, and sickeningly, neither the BSO nor the emergency-communications system were up to the task of handling a mass shooting. (And the 911 system even went on the blink for more than an hour this Friday.)
As the Herald disclosed: “Broward County’s long-troubled emergency communication system broke down. Some deputies appear not to have followed active shooter training — which they hadn’t received since 2016. And agencies didn’t share crucial information that could have led to a faster response.”
The 911 calls from terrified students inside the school were rerouted to a call center in Coral Springs, not to the BSO, which polices Parkland, where the school is located. Therefore, BSO deputies were getting second-hand information as the shooting was under way.
Also, their radio system was overwhelmed. The district captain couldn’t get timely information in order to give her deputies solid direction; BSO and Coral Springs police use different radio frequencies.
Broward County, long aware that the communications system it provides the BSO is antiquated, is giving the system a $59.5 million upgrade, set to go active next year. As necessary as the upgrade is, police departments must be able to communicate with each other. BSO has jurisdiction in more than a dozen cities, plus the Fort Lauderdale airport, Port Everglades, county courthouses and unincorporated areas. At least 14 municipalities, including Hollywood, Davie and Pembroke Pines, police themselves.
Their ability to seamlessly communicate is an imperative. Easier said than done, perhaps, but we’ve already seen the worst-case scenario in Parkland.
If the county upgrade goes as planned, the communications barriers will be dismantled. Already, municipal departments are installing systems that will be compatible with the BSO’s, bringing vital technology into the 21st century to meet 21st century demands — mass shootings, unfortunately, among them. This will be a huge, but only first, step in bolstering Broward residents’ confidence after a spectacular failure to save people under attack.