By Linda Trischitta
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.—When a gunman started shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, two Miramar SWAT team members did what comes naturally: They went to help.
Now they’ve been suspended for it.
The officers did not have permission to respond to the shooting at Parkland on Feb. 14, when 17 people were killed.
And that created an officer safety issue and left them unaccountable for their actions, according to their police department.
But their union reacted differently.
“While it may have been a violation of policy to not notify their supervisors that they were going there, their intentions were brave and heroic, I think,” Broward County PBA President Jeff Marano said Wednesday.
The SWAT officers who responded were Detective Jeffrey Gilbert and Detective Carl Schlosser. One of them told supervisors he was in the Coral Springs area when the gunfire happened; it’s not known where the other drove from, police spokeswoman Tania Rues said.
“They were both close by (the high school),” Rues said.
A third SWAT member, Officer Kevin Gonzalez, was accused of being linked to several social media posts that put the city and police in a negative light, and was suspended for violating the department’s social media policy and the code of conduct, Rues said.
She said she “could not comment further on where he may have posted information about the mass shooting or what was written.”
All three were notified Feb. 22 of their indefinite removal from what their department called a “privileged program” and were ordered to surrender their SWAT-issued rifles, but they remain on active duty for their other assignments, Rues said.
The afternoon of the shooting, Miramar police placed the SWAT team on stand-by in case a request came from the Broward Sheriff’s Office to assist. That call for the team trained in military tactics never came, Rues said.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday it could not confirm whether anyone spoke with Miramar that day, but said Miramar’s SWAT team was “not needed” during the incident.
Miramar Police sent a victim’s advocate to help console victims’ families and officers to help direct traffic, Rues said.
The instinct to run toward danger is a common one in police officers, seen often during terrorist attacks and mass shootings.
But during the Jan. 6, 2017, shootings at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, more than 2,000 cops responded to the original report of gunfire and false reports of additional shots fired, according to a report by the Broward Sheriff’s Office. Five people where killed and six others wounded in the rampage.
“Police officers have an inherent bias for action, and the minute they hear there’s a violent incident underway their immediate inclination is to go to it and try to stop the violence that is occurring,” Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based police research organization, told The South Florida Sun Sentinel last June. “And we want that in police officers. The problem is being able to channel that.”
But police response plans around the country have been changed to avoid having cops swarm to scenes. A crowd of arriving law enforcement can jam roads that ambulances need to use, overwhelm radios and in general, add to the confusion of the police response.
Lessons learned from the Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooting and the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shooting “clearly demonstrate that a controlled, organized response is what is most effective,” Rues said.
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