‘We’re still fighting this issue’: Marjory Stoneman Douglas panel frustrated with inaction on school safety
Nikolas Cruz's guilty pleas are leaviong traumatized survivors without a voice.

'I feel as if I were at a meeting we were having in 2019.'

Stymied safety efforts in the Broward County School District came under a microscope Tuesday as a panel formed in response to a deadly shooting rampage in 2018 heard from the Sheriff, the county manager and the interim School Superintendent.

The radio system that failed on Feb. 14, 2018, as the deadly Parkland school shooting was unfolding has improved, but the radio systems within the county still don’t work together, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission was told. Just a minority of school employees have downloaded a cell phone application that could send information directly to law enforcement, including their location with a push of a button.

And Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony said he hasn’t been able to maximize the use of 10,000 real-time cameras for the last two years simply because he hasn’t been able to get his personnel inside some 500 buildings to map the cameras — including at the scene of the crime, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“It’s astonishing,” said Tony, who replaced the previous Sheriff as part of the fallout from the shooting that left 17 dead and 17 injured. “We’re still begging our partners (in schools) to do their end. I didn’t put in a request for funding. I didn’t put in a request for manpower. I said, ‘Our people will go in and support this effort. Let’s get it done.’ And we’re still fighting this issue.”

Monday, as the commission began the first part of this week’s meetings at the BB&T Center, Sheriff’s Office personnel were finally able to get inside MSD and map cameras there.

Still, the overall situation had commission members in disbelief at how little had changed.

“I feel as if I were at a meeting we were having in 2019,” said James Harpring, who serves on the commission. “Earlier today, I literally could have replayed the tape with a lot of what is happening.”

Tuesday was the conclusion of a two-day set of meetings at BB&T Center in Sunrise. The first day had focused on how schools across the state were complying with new safety regulations mandated by legislation passed in the early days after the shooting. Tuesday, the focus was on the specific incident failures during the deadly rampage in 2018.

Broward Schools Interim Superintendent Vickie Cartwright came before the commission, telling members she had been in her position just 57 days. She said she intended to address the internal failures the shooting exposed.

“These projects were lingering and unfinished,” she said, referring to the camera mapping problem Tony raised and a plan to reunify parents and children after a mass casualty event.

Cartwright said she planned to get more employees to download an app on their phone that could save their lives by educating them about how it works. Just 15% of total employees and 18% of teachers have gotten the new silent alert app that also sends location information to law enforcement with a press of a button.

“There’s a fear that by having this app on your phone, that we can track where teachers or employees are at any point in time, including their own personal time,” Cartwright said. “Our strategy that we’re going forward with is trying to resolve that misconception that is out there.”

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri praised Cartwright’s “new way of doing business,” as opposed to her predecessor, former Superintendent Robert Runcie.

“I (am) hopeful and optimistic … about a new energy level and sense of urgency and quite frankly, sincerity as opposed to lip service because that’s what we received over the last few years,” Gualtieri said.

Proceedings turned confrontational as County Manager Bertha Henry addressed the commission and answered questions about why the county still doesn’t have interoperable radio systems. Coral Springs and Plantation use their own systems. And the county system is becoming more fragmented with Coconut Creek leaving the county’s 911 system to join Coral Springs’ system next year. That increases the potential for the wrong dispatcher to pick up and have to transfer the call, losing precious minutes.

“I’m frustrated and disappointed in the testimony that I’ve heard today because I feel like the same thing we heard the last time we addressed this issue — everybody steps to that podium, and says they’re a willing partner,” said Rick Swearingen, a commission member. “I’m quite frankly tired of the finger pointing. This commission found numerous, numerous failures that led to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre and communications was one of those failures, and you own that, you all own that.

“So I guess if I had a question: How many more people have to die before you adults get in a room and fix this,” he asked.

Henry tersely responded: “Zero.”

“It doesn’t appear that way,” Swearingen said.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


  • Ron Ogden

    October 1, 2021 at 7:34 am

    Carping at each other over turf and process while the ghosts haunt the corridors of MSDHS. And none of the mid-career MPAs and doctors of Education Admin can understand why average Americans think government at every level is so full of s–t.

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