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Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies who responded to the deadly Parkland school shooting had not been through their department’s active shooter training since 2015 or 2016, according to their training files.
Several deputies took cover behind their cars while gunfire raged inside the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School building where Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people, according to police reports. At least one deputy seemed to know where the shooter was.
The deputies’ conduct has been highly criticized — especially the school’s resource officer, Deputy Scot Peterson, who soon resigned — because officers from the Coral Springs Police Department rushed onto the school’s campus toward the freshman building.
One possible explanation for the difference in response: BSO says it hasn’t done an active shooter training cycle since 2016. In contrast, most of the first Coral Springs officers to arrive went through active shooter training in 2017. Coral Springs, a smaller department, says its officers do active shooter training drills every year.
“Our training had a great deal to do with [how our officers performed at Parkland],” Coral Springs Chief Clyde Parry said in an interview. “We’ve trained for these incidents and when we got there the training kicked in and our officers did exactly what they were trained to do.”
In incident reports released late last week, two Coral Springs officers said they saw BSO deputies seemingly unaware of what to do during the Feb. 14 mass shooting.
Jeff Heinrich, an unarmed Coral Springs cop who happened to be at Stoneman Douglas that day in shorts and a t-shirt, said he saw children running and screaming from the school’s 1200 building, including one with a grievous wound to his ankle. He ran to help.
“I then observed an unknown BSO deputy standing outside of his vehicle … and I began yelling at him that there was an active killer and that I have a gunshot victim,” Heinrich wrote.
Officer Richard Best said he saw a uniformed BSO deputy standing near the 1200 building when he responded. The deputy had not entered the building where students and staff were dying.
“The deputy informed me he heard shots fired from the 1200 building and he believed the shooter was on the second or third floor,” Best wrote. “Given the reliable information that shots were heard being fired from the 1200 building, a team of Coral Springs police officers took action consistent with out training and entered to search for the active shooter.”
BSO has said poor communication with Coral Springs, along with radio problems that prevented its deputies from talking to each other, hampered its response to the Parkland shooting. Two state investigations are underway. Some parents of victims have expressed anger at the possibility that some of the dead may have survived if BSO, which polices Parkland, had acted sooner.
In addition to Peterson, at least three other deputies arrived in time to hear gunfire, according to their incident reports: Michael Kratz, Brian Goolsby and Brian Miller. They said they were unable to immediately locate where the shooting was taking place. Kratz wrote in a report that at one point when he heard shots he took cover behind his marked car.
Miller and Goolsby last did active shooter training in the late spring and early summer of 2016, according to a transcript of their training history obtained by the Miami Herald through a public records request. Kratz was last trained in the fall of 2015. Peterson underwent active shooter training in 2016, although BSO says he did additional training with the Broward school board in 2017 and 2018. Capt. Jan Jordan, the Parkland district commander, last did active shooter training in 2015, her file shows.
The Herald also requested training files for five of the first Coral Springs officers to respond: Nicholas Mazzei, Gil Monzon, Scott Myers, Bryan Wilkins and Tim Burton. Documents showed all but Burton attended active shooter training sessions lasting between six and eight hours at a gun range in 2017. Mazzei and Monzon were trained in February, Myers in March and Wilkins in December. Burton was trained in October 2016, according to department records.
BSO said it could not discuss what its active shooter training entails, saying such information was “exempt” from public disclosure under Florida law. A spokeswoman did not respond when asked if BSO believes its deputies were properly trained to handle the Parkland shooting.
“Agencies have a large number of mandatory issues they have to train for as part of their certification,” Col. Jack Dale told the Herald. “You can only take a deputy off the road for so many days before they spend most of their time in training.”
Dale said BSO is reviewing its active shooter training policies.
Pete Blair, executive director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University, said crime data shows mass shootings are on the rise but said each department must choose how often to train.
“It’s difficult to decide if you need to do it every year,” Blair said.
Mass shooting in recent years have prompted the Miami-Dade Police Department, the county’s largest law enforcement agency, to design a new active shooter training program. The new program — set to go into effect in the next few weeks — will see officers receive at least two days of active shooter training every two years.
The first day will center on stopping the killer, the second on providing emergency medical treatment and coordinating with paramedics. Victims of high-powered rifles can bleed out within minutes, meaning police must work to save lives even before rescue workers arrive. In the past, Miami-Dade PD officers received at least one day of active shooter training every two years. Training takes place in a high-tech simulator at the department’s firearms facility.
“It’s a matter of time before [a mass shooting] happens here,” said Capt. Mario Knapp, who runs the training center in Doral.
Knapp said officers need heavy training to prepare for a “violent, chaotic, confusing” situation like a mass shooting — and the hardest part is being trained to run toward the shooter.
“It goes against your natural human instincts to run toward gunfire,” Knapp said. “But that’s how we have to train. We have an obligation to go in and protect lives. We’re police.”
Nicholas Nehamas: 305-376-3745, @NickNehamas