The chair of the state commission that investigated the Parkland school shooting told the Broward County School Board on Tuesday that school security improvements across Florida must happen faster.
During a three-hour meeting with the school board, Bob Gualtieri reviewed the recommendations made by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission to enhance school security. Gualtieri, who is also the Pinellas County sheriff, urged board members and Superintendent Robert Runcie to put aside politics to better identify security threats and respond to them.
“We have to do things differently," Gualtieri said. "If we are looking at it from a perspective of what do we desire, what do we want, what do we think is the best thing without looking at what is reality, what is attainable and what is doable, we’re not going to move the needle.”
The Stoneman Douglas commission, created by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act, spent eight months investigating the shooting and compiled recommendations for school safety statewide.
The commission's 458-page report, submitted to the state in January, includes a second-by-second recap of the shooting and describes security breakdowns at Stoneman Douglas and how law enforcement’s response failed. It recommends enhancing school surveillance technology, implementing “code red” and safe space policies and arming teachers.
One especially ominous finding: since the massacre, Florida schools remain unsafe and unprepared for another shooting attempt.
During the meeting on Tuesday, Gualtieri acknowledged that some security measures must still be approved by state lawmakers. But he added that there needs to be greater urgency at the local level. School districts can take simple steps to better assess threats and enhance emergency response communication at schools, he said.
“Go to Walmart and buy some walkie talkies,” he said.
Runcie says he is committed to meeting the public safety commission’s recommendations, and Gualtieri said Broward is making progess. The school board recently approved a “code red” lockdown policy and a new plan for “safer spaces.” The county had previously received criticism for lacking a formal “code red” policy at the time of the Stoneman Douglas shooting.
“Broward is really moving on a forefront. We’ve taken the commission’s recommendations to heart,” Runcie said. “I absolutely intend for this organization to be a model for the state when it comes to safety and security measures.”
The school board on Tuesday watched videos Stoneman Douglas students took as the shooting occurred. One showed police officers picking up a student shot during the massacre. The videos prompted discussion of a controversial recommendation by the commission to arm certain school staff.
Gualtieri has said that a teacher with a firearm at Stoneman Douglas could have prevented some of the 17 casualties. The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, stopped firing five times to reload his gun during the massacre. Those were moments when a teacher with a gun could have stopped him.
The commission chair noted that when he started investigating the shooting he questioned arming school staff. But he then realized that it's not possible to get enough police officers on school campuses because there is a statewide shortage of cops. Officers outside of schools cannot respond to shootings quick enough on large campuses, he added.
“This isn’t about, ‘Let’s arm teachers,’” Gualtieri said. “It’s about having a few more good guys. They can take effective action, so that no kid has to experience what those kids experienced that you just watched in those videos.”
A proposed state Senate Bill, SB 7030, would expand a statewide Guardian program, which allows trained school staff to carry firearms. Runcie and some teachers and parents have said they oppose arming teachers.
During the meeting on Tuesday, school board member Dr. Rosalind Osgood initially expressed concerns that adding guns to school campuses could undermine perceptions of safety. But she said she was reassured after Gualtieri told her that armed school staff must go through more firearm training than police officers.
Another focus during the meeting was Broward's Promise program. The disciplinary diversion program is meant to keep students out of the criminal justice system but has drawn intense criticism after news reports noted that Cruz participated in it.
Gualtieri said the program creates a culture of leniency because it gives students too many opportunities to participate after they have committed multiple offenses.
"You're giving them too may bites at the apple," Gualtieri said.
During a separate meeting on Tuesday, the school board discussed potential changes to make the program stricter. One change mandates that a student can be referred to the program a maximum of three times through 12th grade.