A hum­bler sher­iff might’ve kept job

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Opinion - By Fred Grimm

Imag­ine how the Scott Is­rael im­broglio might have un­folded had he demon­strated a mod­icum of grace.

The same fail­ures of the Broward Sher­iff ’s Of­fice still oc­cur in our hy­po­thet­i­cal. His deputies are no bet­ter trained to han­dle a school gun­man. In­ef­fec­tive ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tions still ham­per the po­lice re­sponse. In the months be­fore the Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School shoot­ing, his depart­ment still fails to rec­og­nize Niko­las Cruz’s dan­ger­ous po­ten­tial de­spite 23 en­coun­ters with the even­tual mass mur­derer. The day of the shoot­ing, his deputies still daw­dle out­side the school build­ing while chil­dren in­side are dy­ing.

Sub­stan­tive facts don’t change. Mis­takes that led to his re­moval on Fri­day – they still hap­pen. But in this par­al­lel uni­verse, Scott Is­rael doesn’t dodge re­spon­si­bil­ity for BSO’s woe­ful re­sponse to the Park­land hor­ror. He doesn’t shunt blame onto un­der­lings. He doesn’t tell CNN, “Deputies make mis­takes. Po­lice of­fi­cers make mis­takes. We all make mis­takes,” he said. “But it's not the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the gen­eral or the pres­i­dent if you have a de­serter.”

In the af­ter­math of Park­land, our re-do Is­rael doesn’t pro­claim his won­der­ful­ness. “I have given amaz­ing lead­er­ship to this agency.”

Nor does he re­spond with a man­gled apho­rism when asked if a more dili­gent BSO might have pre­empted the most ap­palling crime in Broward his­tory: “Lis­ten, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, O.J. Simp­son would still be in the record books.”

Tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore the state com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Park­land shoot­ing, the re­vamped Is­rael doesn’t re­ject sug­ges­tions that in­ad­e­quate train­ing ex­plained his deputies’ in­ac­tion, declar­ing, “You can’t train courage and you can’t train per­for­mance.”

We might need to reach back fur­ther in our re­vi­sion­ist his­tory to re­pair a per­son­al­ity so rife with self-delu­sion. Our re-imag­ined Scott Is­rael would not have rewrit­ten a crit­i­cal in­ter­nal re­port of BSO’s chaotic han­dling of the 2017 mass shoot­ing at Fort Laud­erdaleHol­ly­wood In­ter­na­tional Air­port. The fi­nal ver­sion pro­claimed, “Through the lead­er­ship of Sher­iff Is­rael … this tragic event was mit­i­gated and in­ves­ti­gated in an ex­tra­or­di­nary man­ner.”

If, in­stead, Is­rael had re­sponded to crit­i­cism with hu­mil­ity; if he had ac­cepted his agency’s fail­ures as his own; if he had used op­por­tu­ni­ties be­fore the tele­vi­sion cam­eras to ad­mit mis­takes, to beg for for­give­ness; I sus­pect the pur­su­ing mob would have lost its fer­vor. A hum­ble Is­rael might have saved his job.

Not that I’m a fan of the ban­ished sher­iff, though my dis­ap­point­ment pre­dates Park­land. I was of­fended to learn he had added a pla­toon of po­lit­i­cal cronies to the BSO pay­roll and tasked them with greas­ing his re-elec­tion. The South Flor­ida Sun Sen­tinel’s Brit­tany Wall­man re­ported in 2016 that Is­rael had hired 10 so-called “com­mu­nity out­reach work­ers.”

That story elicited yet an­other cringe­wor­thy quote: “What have I done dif­fer­ently than Don Shula or Abra­ham Lin­coln or Martin Luther King, Gandhi?” Is­rael asked. “Men and women who as­sume lead­er­ship roles sur­round them­selves with peo­ple who are loyal, who they can de­pend on and who they ap­pre­ci­ate their skill set.” (You’d think one of those po­lit­i­cal ex­perts would have dis­suaded him from po­lit­i­cally in­ept ut­ter­ances.)

But Wall­man’s re­port, which also de­tailed Is­rael’s as­so­ci­a­tion with the ne­far­i­ous po­lit­i­cal sabo­teur Roger Stone, was pub­lished be­fore the Au­gust 2016 pri­mary. Broward vot­ers should have known the sher­iff they were re-elect­ing was more a po­lit­i­cal prop than a cop. Yet, he was the peo­ple’s choice.

That choice was sum­mar­ily de­posed Fri­day, to no great protest. But ask some­one why Is­rael de­served an ig­no­min­ious ouster, they’ll likely cite his self-ag­gran­diz­ing “amaz­ing lead­er­ship” quote. Not BSO com­mand is­sues. Is­rael has also been much crit­i­cized for chang­ing BSO’s pol­icy on deputies charg­ing into a live-shooter sce­nario from “shall” to “may,” but who be­lieves deputies that day de­cided to stay put only after pars­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween “shall” and “may”?

Take away Is­rael’s fool­ish re­marks, ex­am­ine the sub­stan­tive is­sues and one is hard pressed to find the “malfea­sance, mis­fea­sance, ne­glect of duty, drunk­en­ness, in­com­pe­tence ... or com­mis­sion of a felony” the Flor­ida Con­sti­tu­tion re­quires be­fore a gover­nor can zap a sher­iff. Pinel­las County Sher­iff Bob Gualtieri, who chaired the in­ves­ti­gat­ing com­mis­sion, told the Sun Sen­tinel he saw no grounds for re­moval.

It’s a grave thing for a gover­nor to undo an elec­tion, nul­li­fy­ing the vot­ers’ choice. Even more so for Ron DeSan­tis who re­ceived just 31 per­cent of the Broward votes to re­move a sher­iff who won 72 per­cent of that same elec­torate two years ear­lier. Then re­place him with a res­i­dent of Palm Beach County. Not for crimes or malfea­sance, but, os­ten­si­bly, for mis­takes made down the chain of com­mand. (Or maybe DeSan­tis no­ticed that pro-gun con­trol Is­rael was loathed by the NRA.)

Was the DeSan­tis’ coup at BSO based on aw­ful things the sher­iff did? Or the ill-con­sid­ered things he said?

Fred Grimm (@grim­m_fred or [email protected]), a long­time res­i­dent of Fort Laud­erdale, has worked as a re­porter or colum­nist in South Flor­ida since 1976.

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