Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, whose actions and deputies have been the subject of national criticism in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, faces an unprecedented no confidence vote by police union members.
The vote, which began Friday night, is simply a straw poll that won’t directly effect Israel’s job status. But Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association President Jeff Bell said a vote of no-confidence would send a strong signal of discontent in the ranks to Israel over the handling of Parkland as well as other issues, including a pending union contract..
“This has never been done in the history of BSO. So, is it symbolic more than anything? Yes it is,” said Bell. “However it will send a strong message. He’s gone off the radar. We’re like a ship out at sea with no power right now.”
The sheriff, who holds an elected position, has taken heat for the department’s response to Feb. 14 shooting at the Parkland high school that claimed the lives of 17 students and staffers and left 15 others wounded at the hands of former student Nikolas Cruz. Israel, who appeared repeatedly for media briefings in the days after the shooting, has refrained from public comments about the department’s response since a much-scrutinized interview with CNN”s Jake Tapper almost two months ago.
Reached Friday, Israel, a 30-year policing veteran in South Florida who also served as chief in North Bay Village and was elected in Broward in 2012, called the vote orchestrated by Bell “a shameless ploy by a union boss to get a 6.5 percent raise [for union members] when everybody else got a 3 percent raise.”
The sheriff also said he has not cut back on his schedule and has been “visible and out there.” He did say he agreed to a request by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement — which is leading an investigation of law enforcement response to the shooting — to refrain from talking about the incident until its report is complete.
“I’ve been everywhere,” said the sheriff. “My schedule has not changed.”
After the rampage, the sheriff quickly forced the resignation of deputy Scot Peterson when he learned Peterson was on the scene as Cruz was still killing people but had failed to enter the school building. Records show at least three other BSO deputies who showed up at the school also failed to immediately enter.
Then came the Feb. 25 interview with CNN. Tapper questioned why BSO had failed to do more despite repeated calls warning about Cruz’s behavior, including a threat to shoot up a school. Israel responded by saying his deputies responded correctly on 16 of the calls and referred to his own leadership as “amazing.”
Bell on Friday said the vote comes amid other concerns about the sheriff’s command staff, not just the Parkland shooting. He agreed with Israel, saying the current collective bargaining standstill is an issue, but he said the union has also identified family members of command staff getting jobs at BSO who aren’t qualified and he believes that in at least one instance a company with a contract with BSO is getting free gas from the department.
“I have a long list,” said Bell.
Israel believes the union president is pushing the no confidence vote as leverage in contract negotiations.
Bell said the vote, done via email and in person, will close Thursday. There are about 3,000 union members in the BSO, which also operates the 12th largest local jail in the U.S. and has an annual budget of $700 million.
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