The Parkland Shooting One Year Later: What’s Been Done?
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Never again. After the Parkland shooting a year ago, many people committed their lives to those two words.
In the realms of school safety, policing, civic participation, mental health and access to guns, the heinous act of the Parkland gunman motivated change — locally, statewide and nationally. And the campaigns for change continue.
It’s a little harder to buy an assault rifle today or to hold onto one if you’re mentally ill and violent. But gun policy reformers didn’t get everything they wanted.
Many schools are safer, with more guards and tighter access. But the job of hardening buildings and preparing for threats is not complete.
At the top, some leaders like Broward Sheriff Scott Israel lost their jobs because of mistakes they made, but others remain in place. The need for widespread accountability remains.
Here’s a scorecard of what has changed since Parkland, and what hasn’t.
Three days after he was kicked out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, then-19-year-old Nikolas Cruz walked into a gun shop in Coral Springs and bought a Smith & Wesson M&P 15, an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle. A few days before the Parkland shooting the following year, Cruz was online reading the Rolling Stone magazine article “How the AR-15 Became Mass Shooters’ Weapon of Choice.”
Civic involvement: After the shooting, young people reinvigorated the campaign for gun control, prompting one of the largest student demonstrations in U.S. history and a spike in registration of young voters. Parkland students’ Never Again MSD campaign to fight gun violence inspired students across America to participate in a school walkout on March 14. Ten days later, hundreds of thousands of people converged on Washington, D.C., for the historic March for Our Lives political demonstration. A record 800,000 people registered to vote on Sept. 25, National Voter Registration Day.
Bump stocks: A device that turns assault rifles into machine guns was banned, first in Florida and then nationally. Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public High School Act of March 2018 outlawed the bump stocks, which allow an assault rifle to release a volley of bullets with one squeeze of the trigger. Later in the year, President Donald Trump announced a national ban on their sale or possession. Any bump stocks in existence must be destroyed. Bump stocks were used in other mass shootings, including the 2017 massacre of 58 people at a concert in Las Vegas. The Parkland shooter did not use one, but the shooting reignited cries for a ban.
Gun purchases: The Florida Legislature raised the minimum age to buy an AR-15 to 21 in the MSD Act, which was signed into law just three weeks after the massacre. The law also imposed a three-day waiting period for customers buying rifles. In January, state Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, filed a bill (HB 175) seeking to overturn the act’s main provisions.
Red flag law: Florida became the sixth state to pass a red flag law, empowering law enforcement — with court approval — to take guns from people exhibiting violent behavior. Before the law passed, a violent person had to be adjudicated mentally ill by the courts in order to lose his or her weapons. After the Parkland shooting, the idea caught on. Besides Florida, seven other states and Washington, D.C., passed red flag laws in 2018. In Congress, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., refiled a bill in January that would provide a financial incentive to states that pass red flag laws. A bill (SB 764) filed in January by state Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach, would expand Florida’s new law to allow family members to petition the courts for gun removal. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said 1,202 active protection orders — some temporary and some permanent — were issued statewide. At the Broward Sheriff’s Office alone, risk-protection orders were used 96 times in less than a year.
Assault rifles: A ban on assault rifles did not materialize. The rifle is popular with mass shooters, including at Pulse nightclub in Orlando and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. An organization called Ban Assault Weapons NOW, led partly by Parkland victims’ family members and friends, is collecting signatures for a 2020 constitutional amendment in Florida.
Before the shooting, intruders could sneak onto school campuses without a problem. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teacher Sandra Rennie told investigators that Cruz showed up on the first day of school in 2017 even though he’d been forced to withdraw the previous January. He was eventually removed that day by security. When he came back on his murderous mission the following February, he walked right into the 1200 Building with a rifle bag in his hand.
Armed teachers: Discussion about arming teachers continues, but the idea remains controversial and has not been legalized. Another bill was filed this year (SB 7030) to allow it, and Gov. Ron DeSantis supports the idea. So did the FDLE’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public High School Public Safety Commission, which investigated the shooting. Broward County schools did voluntarily join the state’s armed guardian program, accepting state funds to hire armed school employees who aren’t in the classroom. But the School Board, like many across America, opposes arming classroom teachers.
Guards: Every public school in Florida is now required to protect students with at least one armed security guard, under the new MSD Act. The guards were in place for the start of the school year last August.
Hard corners: It appears doubtful now that safe hiding places will be marked in all Broward school classrooms by the end of February, as the Broward school district planned. The state commission advised that marking a “hard corner,” where students could hide from a shooter in the doorway, is an easy, inexpensive exercise. Other school districts in Florida are working on it. But getting it done hasn’t proven easy in Broward.
Money for security: Broward voters in August approved a bond issue to help pay for school police officers and security staff, among other things. The district will start collecting the money in July.
School hardening: Work to lock down access to Broward public schools is not complete. The school district said it intends to use fencing, classroom door locks, campus gates and a single point of entry system to make it more difficult for a shooter to enter a school. As of mid-January, 43 of 238 schools still were working to restrict access, according to the district. All school campus gates must be kept locked, or guarded if they’re open. Teachers were ordered to keep classrooms locked at all times. Bathrooms are to be kept unlocked, so students can hide in them if a shooter emerges in the hallway.
Code red: The school district still hasn’t finalized a formal policy about Code Red school lockdowns during active shooter emergencies. The new policy would make it clear that any employee can create the alert. The schools also still don’t all have an intercom or communications system that would allow all students and teachers to hear a Code Red if one were called.
Surveillance cameras: All surveillance cameras in the Broward schools were upgraded to a uniform system and can now be viewed remotely. Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies are now able to remotely view live feeds from the cameras, during public safety emergencies, the school board decided Jan. 15. Other policing agencies in Broward — the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, for example — are still not able to do that. The district intends to expand permission to other agencies.
Stoneman Douglas High: At the school where the shooting occurred, security escalated. Fencing, gates, door locks, extra personnel and more than 100 surveillance cameras were added. An employee is assigned to monitor the surveillance cameras at all times. Hard corners were marked in many — but not all — classrooms.
Oversight: A new Broward Office of School Safety, Security and Emergency Preparedness was created by the Broward school district.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers swarmed the high school, but the first deputies on the scene stayed outside after hearing gunshots. Radios jammed, preventing officers from effectively communicating. And the chaotic scene lacked a strong central command. “I couldn’t transmit on the radio,” the ranking officer, Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jan Jordan, later told investigators. “I had tried several times.”
911 communications: The outdated, failure-prone emergency radio system in Broward County still hasn’t been fixed, though Broward County commissioners have known of the troubles for years. The gravity of the problem became clear two years ago, when a gunman killed five people in a terminal at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The problems repeated on Feb. 14 in Parkland. Broward County officials now say they might not get the system modernized this year.
First responders: Before he was suspended from office, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel changed policy to direct that deputies “shall” immediately intervene to stop an active shooter and rescue victims. He had loosened the policy prior to the shooting to say that deputies “may” intervene — a decision that was widely second-guessed. Precious moments were lost. The policy was among the sheriff’s leadership flaws cited by Gov. DeSantis when he took office.
Family members of the victims said it seemed one of the most preventable tragedies in history, yet because so many people didn’t do their jobs properly, the shooter faced no resistance. As months wore on, more and more people resigned or were fired.
Sheriff: Broward Sheriff Israel was removed from office by Gov. DeSantis in January for failures before, during and after the Parkland shooting. Israel is fighting the suspension. He was replaced by appointee Gregory Tony, a former Coral Springs police officer who owns Blue Spear Solutions, an active-shooter/mass casualty response company. Tony said he’ll run for the seat in 2020.
Sheriff’s circle: Sheriff Israel’s administration was dismantled after his suspension. Most of his command staff and allies in the Sheriff’s Office resigned or were fired. Sheriff Tony and his new undersheriff worked in the past for Coral Springs Police Department, whose officers were the first to rush into Stoneman Douglas to save children and teachers.
Deputies: Scot Peterson, the deputy assigned to Stoneman Douglas, resigned, vilified for failing to rush in to the 1200 Building to save lives. Two security officers criticized for their inaction that day were let go. Of eight deputies who heard gunshots but didn’t immediately enter the school, two retired, including Peterson; three had their badges taken away and are under investigation; and three were reassigned. Capt. Jordan resigned in November, after the MSD Commission criticized her performance at the scene.
Administrators: Three assistant principals at Douglas High — Jeff Morford, Denise Reed and Winfred Porter — were transferred out of the school. They sued. Security specialist Kelvin Greenleaf also was transferred. Their actions related to the shooting and former student Cruz are being reviewed. The district’s chief human resources officer, Craig Nichols, resigned, criticized for failing to fire a Douglas security guard accused of sexually harassing students. The guard later was the first to see Cruz on campus, but failed to stop him.
Superintendent and board: Broward schools Superintendent Robert Runcie remains in his position, rebuffing calls from some Parkland parents that he resign. Gov. DeSantis said he is looking into whether he can remove Runcie, then said he might hold school board members accountable. The board and Runcie have been criticized for taking too long to implement changes after the shooting and for cloaking some meetings or activities in secrecy.
The Parkland shooter didn’t “snap.” His rampage surprised no one. An emotionally disturbed child, Cruz had told friends of his violent fantasies, written frightening notes on school papers, posted threats online and been on local law enforcement’s radar for years.
FBI call center: In November, the FBI announced an overhaul to its national tip line where callers can alert the agency to potential threats like school shooters. The agency quickly admitted after the shooting that it had fielded an explicit warning about Cruz’s deadly intentions, but did nothing with it. In December, the FBI’s deputy director met with and apologized to the victims’ family members.
Threats: Reporting threatening behavior was made easier after the Parkland shooting. The state app FortifyFL and the Broward app SaferWatch allow students or others to report threats using their smartphones. The tips can be submitted anonymously. In D.C., Sen. Rubio filed a bill Jan. 31 that aims at a uniform method for identifying and responding to threats of danger. It would provide grants for local threat assessment efforts.
Promise program: The state MSD Act tightened up student discipline, reversing a trend Broward had embraced that gave troubled students numerous second chances. Now, law enforcement gets involved once a student commits a second misdemeanor offense. The lenient student treatment, under Broward’s PROMISE program, was a response to Obama-era guidance urging schools not to suspend, expel or report students to police except in the most extreme cases. In December, a school safety committee convened by President Donald Trump issued its recommendations, including a rollback of that culture of leniency.
Mental health: The August bond issue in Broward provides about $8 million for more counselors, social workers and behavior specialists in schools.
Staff writers Stephen Hobbs, Megan O’Matz and Scott Travis contributed to this report.
©2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
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