The Dark Side of Learning and the Importance of Conjecture:

Updated: Feb 28, 2018

Exploring why a Broward County Deputy Failed to Act


There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction. - John F. Kennedy

A lot can be learned from the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Florida, that occurred February 14, 2018. It may be months before a report is completed. If something can be learned in the preliminary investigation that may help in responding to future events, then it must be taken advantage of. The good, the bad, and or the ugly. It is unknown when or where the next active killer event will be, all that is known is it will be attempted again.


When evaluating an incident there is no value in making statements, “if I was there, this is what I would have done.” Instead, look at what worked, what didn’t, and mistakes made, so they aren’t repeated. Consider how to develop, evolve and move forward. Challenge the validity of current standard operating procedures and training. Reflect on how S.O.P.s and training may influence officer’s actions or inactions should an active killer event occur in your jurisdiction.


During the preliminary investigation in the Parkland, Florida incident, it is difficult to remain objective when reviewing the action of one (or more) deputies. Admittedly it is early in the preliminary investigation; nonetheless, it is disconcerting that during the incident, with a killer actively engaging staff and students, a School Resource Officer (SRO) was present and did nothing. Although it’s important to remember it was the despicable shooter, who shall remain unnamed, made the choice to kill, it’s unacceptable for a deputy to be on scene who did nothing. Further reports, although unconfirmed at this time, indicated there were possibly other deputies who failed to act.

Only with conjecture can a conclusion be drawn

To answer the question, why the deputy, or deputies, didn’t enter the building an examination of what is known must be conducted.

According to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, the School Resource Deputy, Scot Peterson was on school premises during the incident. Deputy Peterson responded to the west side of building 12 where he stood outside for “upwards of four minutes,” while the shooting was happening inside the building. Deputy Peterson never entered but took a position outside. Sheriff Israel addressed the possibility of other deputies failing to act, stating it’s being investigated. He further said despite other deputy’s actions (or inactions), Deputy Peterson was the only deputy on scene while the suspect was actively shooting.


Unfortunately, only with conjecture can a conclusion be drawn on Deputy Peterson’s inactions since no reason was given. Typically, conjecture is frowned upon; however, in this case every reason must be explored to prevent repeating. Several reasons may have contributed for the failure to act. One reason that stands out is training.


The Always Evolving Active Killer Response Training


There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure. – Colin Powell


Active killer response changed after April 20, 1999, Columbine High School active killer event. Prior to that, law enforcement were trained to wait for Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T.) teams. S.W.A.T. response could take upwards of an hour. After going over what went wrong and what could be better, active Killer response evolved and new protocols rolled out. Law enforcement no longer waited for S.W.A.T.

Training should include a large amount of time spent on especially single man entry and tactics

The response after Columbine was: first officer arrived and waited for two to three officers, they then entered as a “contact team,” searching to “contact” and neutralize the threat. Other groups of three to four officers arrived and made entry, either as a “contact team” or as a “rescue team.” During this period of training, officers were trained the “diamond formation” the “Y-formation” the “T-formation” or any other formations instructors deemed best to seek out and stop the threat.

Shortly after, there was another evolution. The single officer approach and entry. Although many instructors discuss single officer entry and recommend it, it’s not being trained. When scenarios or “static” practicals are being completed the instructor spends considerable amount of time working the three and four-man formations. Training with formations can be valuable; however, the training should include a large amount of time spent on two men and especially single man entry and tactics.


In all fairness, according to a freedom of information for records, Broward County conducted active shooter response training for 25 officers and deputies, November 2017. It is unknown if single man entry was trained or if Deputy Peterson took part in the training.


One possible reason of inaction by deputies may have been due to lack of single man entry training. Broward Sheriff’s Office, Department of Law Enforcement, Standard Operating Procedures, 4.37.2 - Response/Responsibilities states “If real time intelligence exists the sole deputy or a team of deputies may enter the area and/or structure to preserve life.” Broward Sheriff’s policy provides for single man entry, but without proper training, an officer may have not done so. During a high stress critical incident officers fall back on their training.


Addressing Training Methods and Implementation


Classroom and practicals are an important part of training but it’s only a portion of the training. Repetition is also important, yet repetition can get mundane. Instructors should constantly evaluate and ensure officers are participating and taking the training seriously. Although active killer events are rare, the actions or inactions learned by training can be disastrous.

Besides classroom training and practicals, there is a need for stress inducing scenarios and decision making. This is to “inoculate” officer’s stress during a high stress critical incident. To accomplish this, there is a need for live role-players, and other tools used to overload the senses. There also needs to be force on force training. The training must be as realistic as possible and customized to the department undergoing the training. For example, a small department with only three men on duty at any given time, then the training should reflect and include similar situations. Only then can a proper evaluation be made on the officers, response, and standard operating procedures used. Dave Grossman’s book, On Combat: the Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace, has pertinent information regarding high stress critical incidents, the body’s reaction to the incidents and how to combat them.

It is unknown when or where the next active killer event will be, all that is known is it will be attempted again.

If an officer never participated in force on force, scenario based, “stress-induced” training, he may have shut down psychologically.


On-site Training:


Again, the need for realistic training is invaluable. It is preferred Active Killer Response training be conducted at a “live” school or site that can be a potential target. However, it may not always be feasible or there may be several schools in the same jurisdiction. It is imperative to prepare for training by assessing each school or sight in the same jurisdiction, prior to training.

Instructors should review any obstacle, so they can incorporate it in training. For example, a school may have a stadium, therefore training should include a protocol to address a shooter at a stadium. Training should provide for inside/outside, cafeterias and hallways.


Additionally, on-duty officers can do their own on-site training by occasionally walking through schools. This will provide knowledge of layouts and obstacles that can equip an individual officer valuable information in case of an emergency response. Many schools encourage such actions and staff are usually friendly and pleased to see an officer’s presence.


This type of training could contribute to an officer’s inaction, however, probably not in this case, as the SRO should have prior knowledge to the surroundings and building.


Entry Training:


Every Active Killer Response training should address entry. Further, officers should prepare for having to force entry whether by entry tools or non-conventional means. For example, using a metal trashcan to break a large glass window.

Just because an officer has access to keys or a keycard to school buildings it does not necessarily mean entry will be successful. Lessons learned from another previous active killer event, April 16, 2007, Virginia tech massacre. In that incident, the suspect chained and locked the doors preventing entry.


Training should, if feasible, incorporate traditional entry tools, such as a ram, a hooligan tool and or bolt cutters. Officers should also be encouraged to seek their own tools.


In the Parkland, Florida investigation, it is still pending to determine whether deputies were able to gain entry; however, it does appear Corral Springs Police were able to gain entry to the building, invalidating entry issues being the cause for inaction. Also, one may speculate if there was an entry issue in the Parkland Florida incident, the Deputy would have looked for another means of entry.


Weapons Training:


Another reason an officer may fail to act, is the lack of confidence in fire-power.

A school resource officer is a busy person. Whether counseling students, advising faculty, or assisting dismissal, the SRO wears many hats. Although it’s preferable they are armed with a long gun, it may not be feasible. Therefore, a SRO needs to train and be proficient with their firearm. They should have a duty belt with sufficient ammunition on their person. There may be no time to access a rifle.


Firearms training, other than static range time, is necessary. Officers (not just the SRO) must incorporate drills including target discretion, shooting on the move, seeking cover, reloading, etcetera. If a long gun is not an option, officers should be a weapons expert with their handgun. A back up gun is also mandatory.


Conclusion:


Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. – George Santayana


An active killer event is one of the most intense, high stress, critical incident. For proper response, officers must evolve, adapt, and learn from mistakes and less desirable actions from previous events. Training must be sound, current, and realistic. Firearms training is a necessity. Only through properly implemented training will officers overcome.


It may never be known the reason Deputy Scot Peterson made no attempt to engage the suspect. But only by analyzing the many possible reasons he chose not to can officers ensure they don’t repeat it. Continue to learn from this event, the preliminary investigation, and the final report.


Update: February 28, 2018 after this article was completed, Deputy Scot Peterson released a statement through his attorney, Joseph DiRuzzo explaining why he did not enter the building to confront the suspect. According to the statement, Deputy Peterson stated he did not enter the building because he believed the gunfire was outside the building. Deputy Peterson further stated he was trained if gunshots were outside he was to “seek cover and assess the situation.” He stated he gave information to the school to initiate a lock down and utilize the camera system to attempt to locate the suspect. He further stated he communicated his observations to other officers and SWAT.


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