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FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Members of the Broward Sheriff’s Office rank-and-file have until Thursday to let their voices be heard in a no-confidence vote for Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
Today, in person voting begins at the union office in Plantation.
Deputies can check one of two boxes. “They’ll come in, they’ll be given a ballot,” union president Jeff Bell explained, “A simple ballot right here, it’s a very simple question. I have confidence in Sheriff Israel or I do not have confidence in Sheriff Israel.”
Bell said the historic move is due to the dysfunction of the office, which has been piling up for years but it was Israel’s handling of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that is a major component of the no-confidence campaign, saying he should not have put the full blame on Deputy Scot Peterson, the school’s resource officer.
Video shows Peterson remained outside after investigators say former student Nikolas Cruz opened fire Feb. 14 inside the three-story freshman building with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Israel said shortly after the shooting that Peterson should have rushed into the building to confront and kill Cruz. Peterson retired rather than accept an unpaid suspension.
Bell also has criticized Peterson, but said Israel should not have publicly singled out the deputy and should have placed him on paid leave until an investigation into his conduct was completed. He said only deputies accused of crimes are placed on unpaid leave and Peterson has never been charged.
Sheriff Israel has strongly denounced the vote as a union tactic to get pay raises.
Israel issued a statement Friday saying it is “unfortunate and appalling” that Bell is using the school shooting “as a bargaining tactic to extort a 6.5 percent pay raise” for the union’s members.
Bell said contract negotiations played no role in calling the vote and there are other issues besides the shooting.
In one case, public information requests show a misuse of taxpayer dollars where Napa Auto Parts workers used gas at BSO’s private gas pumps since at least 2015 with gas cards issued by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.
“In one year time period alone, they took almost 6-thousand gallons of gas with our gas pumps with cards that were issued by the BSO, we cannot do that, we are not licensed to buy sell or barter with a private gas company,” said Bell.
Also, he said Israel says the office cannot afford new guns, equipment and training for deputies but the agency underspent its budget by $100 million last year and is on pace to do it again this year.
“We just want the equipment and training needed to keep the community safe,” Bell said.
Bell also says Morale among deputies and sergeants is non-existent. He says his members are tired of mixed messages from leadership and confused over some of the department’s policies.
One example, he says, is the active shooter policy, which states a deputy “may” go into a building and engage the shooter to preserve life. But in training, Bell says, deputies learn to enter the site of the shooting and confront an active shooter. Deputies have to make split-second decisions, he said, so their guidance and training should be identical.
He also talked about policies that he says do not make sense. For example, if a citizen loses his balance and a deputy reaches out to stop the fall, he says, policy requires the deputy to file a “use of force” report.
“The laws are there that allow you to do your job; but the policies make it so paperwork-heavy that no one wants to do their job anymore,” Bell said.
Israel, a Democrat, was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term in 2016. Republican Gov. Rick Scott rejected calls from some state legislators to suspend him after the shooting.
The electronic poll ends Thursday afternoon. If deputies vote “no confidence” Bell said he will call the governor and push for the Sheriff’s removal from office.
CBS4 News reached out to the Sheriff’s office asking for an on camera interview. We’re awaiting a response.
BSO’s largest union is weighing in. The Federation of Public employees sent the sheriff a letter, saying in part, “as your largest union, we support you and have confidence in how you are running this large complex agency.”