The state commission investigating the Parkland school shooting reviewed on Tuesday safety improvements Florida school districts have made since the February 2018 massacre and debated whether to create a system that rates districts on their safety.
During the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission's first public meeting in more than three months, commission chair and Pinellas County sheriff Bob Gualtieri commended some school districts for safety improvements. He noted that Broward County has begun implementing a “code red” lockdown policy program when school staff members believe there is a threat to students.
But he added that several districts have failed to make adequate improvements and said there must be urgency at the local level.
“There are still some districts in the state of Florida that, today, do not have an active shooter response policy,” Gualtieri said. “We still got work to do, and there’s still room to make it better than what it is.”
Tuesday’s meeting at the BB&T Center in Sunrise was the commission’s first since it submitted to the state in January a report on safety failures during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The 458-page report includes a list of recommendations on how to harden schools through enhanced surveillance technology and arming school staff, among other methods.
During Tuesday's meeting, the commission reviewed statistics showing how much progress districts have made toward improving safety. Commissioners heard that all but four of the state’s 67 districts have an active shooter response policy and nearly 20 percent of districts have an unarmed officer present at all times during school hours.
After learning that fewer than half all districts have implemented a state guardian program to arm school staff, Gualtieri called on school officials to put aside their discomfort with more guns on campus.
He noted that it is not possible to have enough police officers on campuses because it’s costly and there is a statewide shortage of cops. Officers outside of schools cannot respond quick enough to shootings on large campuses, he added, saying that arming school staff is a solution.
“Some districts have set the bar too high, so that they’ll tell you that we can’t hire guardians,” Gualtieri said. “There are plenty of options to comply with this, the problem with the options is that some just don’t like the options.”
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, a member of the commission, proposed holding schools accountable for not complying with suggested safety measures. He posited giving every school district a grade on their progress. Such a rating system could increase pressure on districts to comply with recommended improvements.
“We need to give every one of these districts a grade, A through F,” Judd said. “We need to publish it on social media…We need to require by law that the school districts put on their stationary that, ‘We’re a failure at keeping your children safe.’”
The commission also called for more progress in addressing emergency response system failures during the Parkland school shooting.
The Broward County Regional 911 System has come under scrutiny after reports showed that police officers had trouble reaching each other during the shooting and emergency calls from inside Stoneman Douglas High School went to multiple different call centers. The system already faced questions after failures during the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shooting in 2017.
Despite the scrutiny, Gualtieri said on the Tuesday that Broward County has made no changes to the system. There continues to be disagreement over the location of a call tower in Hollywood that is necessary to improve the reliability of police and firefighter responses to 911 calls. A proposal to place the tower in West Lake Park has received criticism because it could be a potential eye sore, he said.
“Everyday that goes by that this radio system is not fixed is a day of vulnerability,” Gualtieri said. “If another incident happens, there’s a likelihood—if not stronger than a likelihood—that the Broward County Sheriff’s Office radio system will exceed capacity.”