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Parkland commission members say changes to 911 system, threat assessments needed to improve safety

A memorial garden for the 17 people killed in the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Scott McIntyre for NPR
A memorial garden for the 17 people killed in the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Four years after Parkland, 911 system in Broward County still fragmented

More than four years after the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, concerns with how 911 calls are handled in Broward County have still not been addressed, officials told the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission this week.

An investigation by the commission determined that the county’s fragmented emergency communications system led to delays in officers’ response to the massacre.

At a meeting of the commission in Sunrise on Tuesday, Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony told the panel that some of the factors that contributed to the delays are still in place today.

The City of Parkland contracts with the Broward Sheriff’s Office for its police services and the City of Coral Springs for its fire and emergency medical services. Coral Springs also operates its own 911 call center, separate from Broward County’s regional emergency communications system, which handles calls for 29 of the county’s 31 municipalities.

On Feb. 14, 2018, when panicked students dialed 911 from inside their besieged classrooms, their calls were routed to Coral Springs, where staff dispatched fire / EMS workers to the area of the school and transferred the calls to Broward County’s regional 911 center. But Coral Springs dispatchers did not initially provide the information to on-duty Coral Springs police officers, costing precious minutes while students and teachers inside the school begged for help.

“Coral Springs Communications Center received at least twelve 911 calls before there was any CSPD radio traffic notifying on-duty CSPD officers of the shooting. The first Coral Springs police radio traffic indicating an active shooter at MSDHS was at 2:26 p.m., which was 4 minutes after Coral Springs received the first 911 call,” reads a segment from the Commission’s initial report.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Commission Chair and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri questioned Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony about the status of the 911 system now.

“When that 911 call was made, it didn’t go to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. It went to the Coral Springs Police Department. So today, four and a half years later, if a kid in Stoneman Douglas High School today picks up their cell phone and called 911, where is that call going?” Gualtieri asked.

“It’s...it’s going to Coral Springs,” Tony replied.

Max Schachter is a member of the commission. His 14-year-old son Alex was sitting in his English class when he was murdered during the shooting.

“So it’s still not fixed,” Schachter said. “Four and a half years later and it’s still not fixed. That’s … that’s extremely frustrating."

Sheriff Tony says he’s made some changes that are within his power, but decisions on 911 operations are also up to the City of Coral Springs, the City of Parkland and the Broward County Commission.

“I have the authority to do what I need to do to fix BSO, which has been fixed and rectified. The problem is when you’re trying to bridge connections and partnerships with other organizations that have their own independence,” Tony said. “Again, as a municipal city, to be fair, Coral Springs has every right to execute what they think is best for their city.”

Commission targets schools’ handling of behavioral threat assessments

MSD Commission finds inconsistencies in how schools assess threats

School districts' efforts to prevent and track violence are inconsistent and insufficient, according to the Commission. Staff found significant differences in how often districts are conducting and reviewing behavioral threat assessments.

Districts are required by state law to use a standardized rubric for assessing the behavior of potentially violent students. But how often students are being assessed runs the gamut, according to Commission Chair Bob Gualtieri.

Some smaller districts are assessing students much more often than Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the state’s largest district.

“350,000 students. They reported to the Office of Safe Schools that they did 277 threat assessments for the 2021 school year. That is 0.8 threat assessments per 1,000 students. That’s not even one per school in Miami-Dade,” Gualtieri said.

Meanwhile, Madison County Public Schools, with about 2,700 students, conducted 171 assessments, amounting to 70 per 1,000 students.

“What’s clear is .8 in Miami-Dade and 70 per 1,000 in Madison County is clearly flawed. There is such great disparity,” Gualtieri said. “It is so obvious that it is so far apart that it’s wrong.”

According to the Commission’s analysis, MDCPS is one of 9 districts that do not use an automated system for threat assessments, instead tracking the data with “pen and paper.”

A spokesperson for MDCPS did not respond to a request for comment.

Gualtieri said he has spoken with MDCPS Superintendent Jose Dotres, acknowledging that the issue largely predates Dotres’ tenure, which began in February.

“He is absolutely committed to making this change and to making the process work and work well in Miami-Dade County,” Gaultieri said. “All that you see here is well before his watch.”

Gualtieri argued that the disparities and inconsistencies between districts shows that state policymakers should create consistent standards and expectations for districts across Florida.

“Every superintendent I have talked to wants this to work – is committed to it,” Gualtieri said. “They all want it to work, but they’re looking for direction. They’re looking for guidance. They’re looking for somebody to just tell us what to do and how to get there and we’ll get there. But the problem is, is that hasn’t been done up to this point.”

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter