Once a media fixture following the Parkland shooting, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel has become a shrinking figure. He was bombastic during a CNN town hall on the shooting, but then gave a now recognized-as-disastrous interview, and he’s faded from view. The suddenly bashful lead officer is now focused not on safety improvements but on his own image repair.
It has been a tough week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of a mass shooting that took the lives of seventeen students and teachers. Two students were arrested for bringing weapons onto the campus (lawyers contend they were knives for protection). Another student has been arrested following the posting of threats to the school on social media.
Possibly causing the most anxiety was that Zachary Cruz, brother of the shooter, was arrested for trespassing on the school grounds. It was reported to be his third such visit to the school since the tragedy. Compounding all of this was the fact that as increased security has been brought in one Broward Sheriff’s deputy was found to be sleeping in his vehicle; this was in the time frame of Cruz finding his way into the school.
In response to the Mayberry-like competency Governor Rick Scott has resorted to now having Florida State Troopers posting guard at the school. It becomes yet another entry in a growing list of problems with the BSO exposed by this tragedy. Dozens of visits to the the shooter’s home led to inaction, and when told Cruz made direct threats to the school it only generated inertia. The deputy posted at the school never engaged the shooter, and first responding deputies never entered the school as the suspect escaped.
Following the shooting Sheriff Israel went from a face of the community to the focus of departmental incompetence. A large number of State legislators have called for his dismissal, and an investigation into the BSO actions the day of the shooting is currently taking place.
Also taking place is the formation of a non-profit entity that is then bankrolling the effort of a crisis management team called Mercury LLC (a “High-stakes public strategy firm” according to its own PR) to assist with rehabilitating Israel’s image.
That’s correct — in the midst of the strife, anxiety, and grief felt by the students and their families the Sheriff is focused not on better protecting the community he let down, but on the task of making himself look better in the eyes of the public.
Scott Israel’s supporters last week hired crisis management firm Mercury to help Broward County’s top cop deal with the mountain of political and media pressure facing his agency. Israel’s backers are paying the firm through a “dark money” 501(c)4 non-profit they created last week, called People for a Safe Broward.
That name alone should underscore the tone-deaf actions, given that the entire reason Israel is under fire is because he and his department failed in their duties to keep the community safe. What could be a bigger sign of the incompetence than a department under the glare of criticism and national attention having a deputy snooze-and-protect while Cruz’s brother trespassed on location.
A lawyer representing the upstart organization tried to spin this as a community involvement, explaining “People for a Safe Broward retained a public relations firm to assist the organization in its support of law enforcement.” The Miami Herald found that through the legal papers a woman named Amy Rose was the force behind this non-profit becoming incorporated. Rose not coincidentally served as Israel’s campaign manager as he ran for office in 2016.
Mercury stepped in a couple of weeks ago to assist the Sheriff as he appeared to founder in the public eye. After the town hall where he attempted to lay blame at the feet of the National Rifle Association news came out revealing numerous departmental missteps. Israel then gave a widely mocked interview on CNN, declaring he gave “amazing leadership”. Then, after loudly boasting to TV cameras the surveillance video from the scene should be released, he proceeded to fight behind the scenes against the release of that same video.
Commenting on the new development Israel delivered these carefully crafted words:
Our community has come together. I am grateful for the counsel that many have provided and I will continue to welcome the support of organizations like People for a Safe Broward. We all share the same goal, which is to protect our community.
That was not from an interview, but from an issued statement. I’ll leave it to you to decide how heartfelt those words may be, or how his effusive praise for a group run by his own campaign manager may have been written by Mercury representatives.
— for additional insight, and bad film coverage, tail me on Twitter @MartiniShark