Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony's First Year In Office: BSO Unveils New Mobile Response Unit
When Gregory Tony was appointed January 2019 by new Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to take over leadership from suspended Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, he inherited a law enforcement agency that had been heavily criticized and lost public trust following officers' response to the 2018 Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Just over a year later, Tony hosted a media 'open house' Thursday at the Public Safety Complex on West Broward Boulevard to review his first year at the helm of BSO.
Several reports following the shooting found that Broward Sheriff's Office deputies hid behind cars and trees the day of the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting, instead of going into the school. Deputies did not arrive wearing protective gear and spent extra minutes getting into full uniform. And there was confusion about who was giving commands, and the timeline of video surveillance tape.
Tony, a former Coral Springs Police sergeant, said nearly two years after the Parkland shooting he feels he has been able to regain the public's trust in BSO's competancy.
"I've been in just about every part of this county, without a doubt every city and it's a shared concern," Tony said about school safety. He said he gets asked: "Can you succeed, will you succeed if my kid's in the next school? Are you showing up or are your people going to stand outside?"
"That level of trust ... we can see it. But we can't be complacent with that, because all it takes is one singular incident again and we are back to where we started a year ago in trying to establish the public's trust," Tony said.
First Year Changes
Once he took office, Tony vowed to increase training for BSO deputies, including active shooter training that the statewide MSD Public Safety Commission found was lacking after the Parkland shooting. He succeeded in expanding the training team at BSO after reallocating funding.
"We are now the top-trained organization — not just in Broward County, not just in the state of Florida — but in the United States, having acquired all the core training credentials from Homeland Security and the FBI," Tony said. He began exploring the federal training partnerships in May 2019.
The long-awaited 90,000-square-foot training facility for the agency broke ground in December. Tony said he hopes the building can be completed within two years, "hopefully faster," he said.
August 2019 saw the expansion of BSO's Real Time Crime Center, as students across the county went back to school. That's where deputies monitor cameras at over 260 public school and administrative buildings.
When Tony took office, BSO had 139 law enforcement vacancies. After collaborating with Broward College to train more deputies, there are currently 88 vacancies. The agency is focused on recruiting more law enforcement officers in Tony's second year as sheriff. BSO is hosting a job fair at the Public Safety Complex in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, Feb. 22.
BSO also had new technology to unveil at Thursday's open house: The agency has added a mobile Forensic Response Unit to its Crime Scene Unit. The 45-foot-long vehicle includes a sterile evidence room, a witness room and give deputies the ability to have a mobile office present to work out of at crime scenes.
High Profile 'Use of Force' Cases
Over the course of Tony's first year in office, there have been several high-profile cases in which BSO deputies were caught using controversial use of force.
In April 2019, Delucca Rolle, 15, was seen captured on a viral cellphone video in Tamarac. BSO deputies were recorded on the video slamming Rolle's head into the ground and pepper-spraying him in a McDonald's parking lot after a fight broke out among a group of high school students. Tony fired Deputy Christopher Krickovitch for his involvement on Dec. 11, 2019, against the recommendation of a Professional Standards Committee.
Tony said Thursday that he wants to see that committee organized differently going forward, with more input from vetted citizen members. He did not see it issuing discipline in line with the level of offenses.
"It forced me several times over the last year, to act outside the reccomendations," Tony said.
He also went against the committee's recommendations when disciplining deputies involved with the Stoneman Douglas shooting. In June 2019, the agency completed its investigation into officer response on the day of the shooting. Four deputies in total were fired for their response to the shooting, and for some the Professional Standards Committee recommended 30-day suspensions. Allegations against three other deputies in the investigation were not sustained.
The Professional Standards Committee, made up of 11 members, four of whom are non-law enforcement citizens, recommended the same punishment for Deputy Jorge Sobrino, who was caught on video on Jan. 1, 2019, punching a man handcuffed to a hospital bed. In October 2019, Tony went against the recommendations of the committee and fired Sobrino.
"You don't have to be a use of force expert to recognize what is wrong," Tony said. "Is it reasonable, is it neccessary, was it proportional to what we were dealing with? That's it."
Broward County's Regional 911 Communications
There were also failures with Broward County's regional 911 communications system on the day of the Stoneman Douglas shooting, there was too much radio traffic jamming the system. BSO operates dispatchers and call takers, while the county is in charge of technology.
The county has been working to get new radio communication towers online, but has been delayed by the City of Hollywood not wanting the tower for their portion of the county to go in West Lake Park.
"We don't live on an island," Tony said he told the city. "We all live in Broward County ... we don't want to fragment a regionalized system."
He said he does believe "at some point" communications should come back under the purview of sheriff's office.
Broward County commissioners voted to move forward with a 15-tower system instead of 16, without the Hollywood tower in September 2019.
Up For Election
It was at the media open house last year, three weeks after Tony had taken office, that he announced his intent to run for sheriff in 2020. He officially filed candidacy paperwork in November 2019, as one of his opponents, former Sheriff Israel, tries to get his old job back.
Tony told reporters on Thursday: "It is an elected role but it does not have to be political. ... I'm optimistic that this community, having been out there now for a year, are seeing the difference in how we lead as an organization and how I present myself and what my focal point is."