As the sad saga of the mass shootings at the high school in Parkland, Florida continues to play out in front of us—the grief, the sorrow, the unheeded warnings and the calls for various actions to curb gun violence— the Sheriff of Broward County, Scott Israel, remains at the front and center of the story. For the most part, he is front and center because he has placed himself there, seeking the spotlight and attempting to bolster his political capital.
While he claims to have provided “amazing leadership,” the facts tell us otherwise. Leaving aside the multiplicity of investigations into his department for crime and corruption, his missteps and misstatements in the aftermath of this mass murder are, in fact, the “amazing” things about Scott Israel, not his leadership.
Sheriff Israel has failed the basic premises of effective leadership. Chief among these is this principle: Hold those under you accountable, followed by: Hold yourself accountable. A leader does not pass the buck. Think how different the conversations surrounding the Broward County Sheriff’s Department would be if Israel had stated from the beginning, “I take full responsibility for the actions of my department.” A minimally effective leader, to say nothing of an amazing one, would not have thrown the other deputies under the bus or dismissed criticism by stating “I gave them a gun and a badge,” what else can I do? A true leader would not minimize the significance of the calls to 911 about Nikolas Cruz or sidestep the fact that officers had been called to the Cruz residence 45 times over the years. Other calls included one from the cousin of Cruz’s mother on November 1, 2017 who alerted law enforcement that Cruz was a danger and asked that his weapons be taken away, or the anonymous call on November 30 that warned Cruz was a school-shooting in the making.
Sherriff Israel has a penchant for inappropriate and unhelpful analogies. His remark to Jake Tapper that if “if’s and buts were candy and nuts, O.J. Simpson would still be in the record books,” besides sounding cavalier and calloused about the shooting, overlooks the fact that O.J. Simpson is, in fact, still in the athletic record books. Israel compared his situation to a military general, analogizing that if a soldier did something wrong, the general would not be removed from his leadership position. This is a blatant misunderstanding of military culture and standards. In fact, senior leaders in the U.S. Armed Forces are frequently relieved of command for the actions of their subordinates. Last summer, after a series of ship accidents in the Pacific, the commander of the 7th Fleet (a Vice Admiral), the Task Force 70 Commander (a Rear Admiral) along with a Navy Captain were all relieved of command.
Military leaders are held accountable. Ask the battalion commander I knew who lost his job because an artillery crew in his command accidentally killed a group of soldiers by firing a cannon. The battalion commander was nowhere near the accident; but he lost his job. Leaders in the corporate world are held accountable. When stocks plummet or scandal rocks a company, frequently it is the CEO who is held accountable. Sheriff Israel needs to be held accountable.
Under the Florida Constitution, the governor can suspend any state official who is not subject to impeachment. Since county sheriffs in Florida cannot be impeached, Governor Scott should consider suspending Sheriff Israel from his position. It would then be up to the Florida Senate to either make the suspension permanent, or restore the sheriff to his job.
With Sheriff Israel, we do not have an example of “amazing leadership.” Rather, it is an amazing failure of leadership.