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FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Embattled Broward Sheriff Scott Israel has been harshly criticized for his department’s response to the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
While Israel waits for word on his future, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was asked Wednesday whether he plans to suspend the sheriff while the Governor announced a new Florida Supreme Court justice.
DeSantis didn’t exactly give Israel a vote of confidence.
“All I can say to the people of South Florida is, I shall return very soon,” DeSantis said.
Sheriff Israel, who has come under intensifying scrutiny in recent months amid revelations about deputies who failed to confront the Parkland shooter and a questionable active shooter policy, remains on the job, his attorney said, and has communicated his position to his command staff.
“He had a meeting with them yesterday and he reaffirmed his commitment and that he made it clear that as long as he continues to be Sheriff, it’s business as usual,” said Stuart Kaplan.
But Jeff Bell, President of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association said that Israel has been telling people close to him that he expects to be suspended.
“He’s made several speeches to be people on the 5th floor that he expects to be removed from the Sheriff’s Office to prepare for a new administration,” Bell told CBS4 News.
As Israel remains in limbo, CBS4 News spoke to a longtime BSO law enforcement officer who said morale in the agency is low.
“People at BSO feel lost,” said the BSO employee, who did not want to be identified. “They’re anxiously looking for resolution to this situation with the Sheriff.”
The employee said the hope is that a new sheriff would refocus the mission of BSO “with the primary focus being on public safety.”
The sheriff’s lawyer confirmed that BSO Undersheriff Steve Kinsey intends to resign his position. Multiple other sources have confirmed that at least one other member of Sheriff Israel’s inner circle has resigned.
CBS4 News has tried multiple times to speak with Sheriff Israel but we’re told he’s not commenting.
Parents and spouses of some of the Parkland victims have made their feelings known about the Sheriff.
“I think BSO needs a different leader,” said Debbie Hixon, whose husband Chris was murdered at Stoneman Douglas.
She said initially it seemed that School Resource Deputy Scot Peterson’s inability to confront the shooter might have been an exception but then the commission learned of other BSO deputies who also failed to enter the Freshman Building as shots were going off. Hixon sees that as a failure of leadership.
“They had all those other people reacted very similar so to me it’s more of a systematic issue than it is an individual acting on his own,” she said.
Israel has been heavily criticized for his agency’s response to the Parkland shooting in terms of training for such an incident and the response of deputies. He has also faced scrutiny over a policy that told deputies they “may” confront an active shooter rather than “shall” confront an active shooter. Israel doubled down on the policy when speaking to the Stoneman Douglas Commission late last year. He told the Commission that inserting the word “may” was his doing.
“I want an effective tactical response not a suicide response,” Israel said at the time. “‘May’ allows a deputy discretion. It allows a deputy to think on his or feet.
“Make no mistake about it – our deputies will go in just not in a suicidal manner. A dead deputy is not going to be able to help anyone.”
But many including parents of the Parkland victims and some members of the Commission said in the days and weeks after Israel’s testimony that the policy led to inaction and needs to be changed.
“They decided to be cowards instead of going in and being heroes,” MSD Commission member Grady Judd said during a meeting.
Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was murdered at MSD and sat on the MSD Commission, in the past called on Israel to resign.
“If we want to prevent this from happening again, we’ve got to have accountability and that starts at the top,” Petty said. “The policy was put in place by the sheriff and I think he needs to be accountable for that policy so I’d like to see Sheriff Israel do the honorable thing and resign.”
Last month, BSO announced that they planned to change the active shooter policy to replace the word “may” with the word “shall.”
Israel has also been criticized by the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies association. Their president, Jeff Bell, rattled off a number of failures on Israel’s part, including getting a training facility for deputies.
“Everything has to change — the training mindset — you need a strong leader whose willing to go in front of the county commission and finally ask for the resources and the land to actually build a training center,” Bell said.
Bell said that said Israel has failed to provide fair treatment to all BSO employees and shown a willingness to use his position for political gain.
“We are requesting them to make all captains, majors and lieutenant colonels a tested and protected position,” he said. “This way no future sheriff can ever come into the sheriff’s office again and fill the upper ranks with political favors and friends that are clearly incompetent to run an agency of this magnitude.”
Bell believes change needs to come soon and he believes it will.
“There’s a big cultural change that needs to happen in the Sheriff’s Office and I think we’re gonna get the opportunity soon,” he said.