Florida’s Titanic screw-up

By Randall Poulton | Mar 09, 2018

I am writing this column from Florida, not far from Parkland, the site of the most recent school massacre. As you would expect, the local media coverage of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting is comprehensive. Before I “get down in the weeds” regarding exactly how it happened, let me be clear about two things: The murder of 17 innocent people at the school is a horrible atrocity and the shooter is a monster deserving of the death penalty. With that said, here we go.

I read in The Republican Journal that students at Mount View walked out in protest, demanding still more gun control laws, in the hope of heading off future school shootings. Students here in Florida are staging similar protests.

If only more laws would solve the problem. Murder is already illegal. Credentialed criminals cannot legally buy guns. But laws are for the law abiding. Heroin is illegal and we are setting records for overdose deaths and lives ruined. Domestic abuse is illegal — how is that campaign going? Speeding, distracted driving and OUI are all illegal — and yet the carnage on our roads and highways is increasing at an alarming rate. Here in Florida the morning traffic report is more like the daily body count. Yesterday, during morning rush hour, there were two pedestrians killed. And this is just in the Tampa area. Maybe we need to institute tougher “car control” laws.

The unfortunate fact is bad people will do bad things. As a society, the best we can do is try to identify and stop monsters like the Stoneman Douglas School shooter before they kill our children. To that end, what happened at Stoneman Douglas is a helpful case study. As with most disasters, a series of circumstances aligned in a manner that led to great loss of life.

Consider the case of the Titanic. The ship’s design was flawed, the captain chose to proceed at speed through the ice and a nearby ship ignored her distress calls and signal rockets. Change any one of these factors and the outcome of the Titanic’s maiden voyage would have been far different. At Stoneman Douglas, the school environment was incredibly permissive, campus security was woefully inadequate and law enforcement ignored multiple warnings and failed to respond properly at the critical time. Change any one factor and I would not be writing this column.

Permissive environment

An extremely important element of this story involves how Superintendent Robert Runcie created a school environment that tolerated bad behavior. Runcie was the architect of a well-intentioned policy called the Collaborative Agreement on School Discipline (CASD). Signed in 2013 by, among others, Runcie, Broward County Sherriff Scott Israel and Florida’s attorney general, the agreement specified that, instead of subjecting students to the same consequences adults face for “minor” criminal acts, the school would rehabilitate the kids via the in-school PROMISE program.

OK, I get that sending kids to jail for smoking pot is stupid. But is tolerating “minor crimes” like theft, assault (without injury) and possession of drugs really helping prepare these students for the real world? Or is it contributing to the development of monsters like the latest school shooter?

In any case, this monster had a long history of disciplinary problems that came to a head in January 2017 when he assaulted another student. School staff recommended a threat assessment which, apparently, was never done. Importantly, what has yet to be revealed is whether the monster’s “minor crimes,” had they been traditionally adjudicated in the courts, rather than whitewashed by CASD, would have prevented him from legally buying firearms.

Assuming this is found to be the case, Parkland will join the Charleston Church and Las Vegas on the list of mass recent shootings where the perpetrator “legally” bought guns despite a record that should have made that impossible.

Woeful security

Eventually, after many failures of PROMISE, Runcie effectively expelled the Stoneman Douglas monster from the 3,200-student high school campus (for comparison, Husson University has about 3,500 students). To secure the more than a dozen buildings on the Stoneman Douglas campus, Sheriff Israel had assigned one armed school resource officer. In the aftermath of the massacre, when asked how the monster got on campus, Runcie said he walked into the ninth-grade building during dismissal when the campus is not very secure.

Multiple warnings

Sheriff Israel stated the shooter was well-known to law enforcement, being the subject of "20 calls for services in the last few years." Based on a FOIA request, CNN reports there were actually more than 40 calls. Well-known indeed. Israel described the shooter's online profiles and accounts as "very, very disturbing."

It gets worse. The FBI had received two tips that the shooter was intending to target a school, including on Jan. 5, when a woman called the FBI tip line to warn of a potential school shooting. Both tips were ignored.

Still, had anyone, in any branch of law enforcement, run the shooter’s name thru the NICS database, it would have lit up a warning brighter than the signal rockets fired by the Titanic, revealing the fact the monster had bought ten long guns in the last year. But no one looked until it was too late.

Flawed response

Once the shooting started, the last chance to avoid a Titanic disaster was in the hands of the school resource officer. But Scott Peterson, now branded “the Coward of Broward County," took cover outside the school while the massacre unfolded inside the school. Could Peterson have done more? Maybe.

And it gets worse: Once law enforcement arrived in numbers, they spent precious time, while students lay bleeding, setting up a perimeter to contain an active shooter. But the monster was long gone and sitting in Subway having a soda. Upon review, seems the “live” security video the lawmen were watching was on a 20-minute delay. A Titanic screw-up indeed.

It may be worth remembering that, despite the many mass drownings caused by shipwrecks, not once did any sane person think the answer was banning boats!

Randall Poulton lives in Winterport. He writes a monthly column for The Republican Journal.


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