Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who touted his own “amazing leadership” after the Parkland school shooting, is facing a no-confidence vote from the union representing his deputies.
Jeff Bell, the president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, told CNN on Friday that union members had decided to move forward with the vote, which will begin electronically tonight and will close on April 26.
“There is a complete failure at the sheriff’s office and he doesn’t recognize it,” Bell said.
Calling the vote a “ploy,” Israel said the union “is trying to use the Parkland tragedy as a bargaining tactic to extort a pay raise.”
Aside from the sheriff’s comments in the aftermath of Parkland, a letter informing the union membership of the vote contains a multitude of other complaints against Israel. Union audits showed that Israel has returned hundreds of millions of dollars to the county that could have been used money for deputy salary increases, training, health care, crime laboratory upgrades and safety equipment, the letter said.
Bell said he informed the sheriff ahead of the announcement that the vote would go forward.
“The move follows many instances of suspected malfeasance … and the lack of leadership that has crushed morale throughout the agency,” the announcement from the deputies association says.
Bell says the historic move is due to the dysfunction of the office, which has been piling up for years. But it was Israel’s behavior after the school shooting that left 17 people dead that pushed the rank and file over the edge, he says. Especially when Israel swiftly blamed school resource officer Scot Peterson for not entering the building and stopping the shooter.
Peterson said through his attorney that he thought the shots were being fired outside the building. Peterson was suspended without pay and later resigned.
Bell, who also has been critical of Peterson, agrees that the deputy should have entered the building. But he said he and his union members believe the sheriff should have taken some responsibility as well, instead of shifting all the blame to a deputy.
Israel “didn’t say it’s an open investigation (on law enforcement’s response to the shooting). He blamed it all on Peterson,” Bell said. “You don’t do that to one of your deputies.”
“My members are not poster children. They are not squeaky clean. They make mistakes. What we are saying is, they should be punished fairly,” Bell said.
Deputies complained about mixed messages, policies
The Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association represents 1,325 deputies, more than half of the county’s 2,560 certified deputies. Morale among deputies and sergeants is non-existent, Bell says. 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.
Lawmakers asked governor to suspend sheriff
This is not the only move against Sheriff Israel in the aftermath of the shooting.
Eleven days after the February 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and 73 other Republican representatives sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott, asking him to suspend the sheriff for what they called his “incompetence and neglect of duty.” The lawmakers also cited the failure of Scott and his deputies to enter the school building to stop the shooter, and their failure to act on warning signs about the shooter for years.
The governor did not suspend the sheriff but did launch a state investigation, which is being conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office has been consistently accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, most recently in November of 2017. The national organization maintains a body of standards on public safety initiatives and establishes and administers the accreditation process.
The Broward County Commissioners and the Florida State House of Representatives are also investigating the law enforcement response to the Parkland shooting.
In a heated interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” on February 25 – the same day lawmakers sent the governor that letter – anchor Jake Tapper asked Israel how he could claim “amazing leadership” of the sheriff’s office when it failed to keep guns out of shooter Nikolas Cruz’s hands after several reports of alarming behavior and incidents involving him, and when the school resource officer – a Broward County deputy – remained outside the building as Cruz killed 17 people and wounded many more.
“Jake, on 16 of those cases (reports about Cruz), our deputies did everything right. Our deputies have done amazing things. We have taken this – in the five years I have been sheriff, we have taken the Broward Sheriff’s Office to a new level. I have worked with some of the bravest people I have ever met,” Israel said.
“It makes me sick to my stomach that we had a deputy that didn’t go in, because I know, if I was there, if I was on the wall, I would have been the first in, along with so many of the other people.”
‘The morale is gone’
The no-confidence voting period will close April 26, to allow all the voting members to cast their ballot during their shift. All deputies and sergeants in the union will have the power to vote.
While the outcome of the no-confidence vote is mostly symbolic, it will give the sheriff a sense of what his rank-and-file deputies think of his command.
“Some of his best supporters are being vocal against him,” said Bell. “The morale just disappeared. The morale is gone.”
The union has never held a vote of no-confidence vote against the sheriff before, according to Bell.
CNN’s Jamiel Lynch contributed to this report.