Military and Police

Miramar PD SWAT Officers Lose Positions for Responding to Parkland Shooting

In perhaps the lamest police news of the week, two Miramar PD officers have been suspended from their SWAT team for responding to the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, FL on February 14th.

Detectives Jeffrey Gilbert and Carl Schlosser were both nearby when they got word of the carnage taking place at the school. What they did next wasn’t heroic – it was what they were called to do, what they were trained to do, and what society expected them to do. Gilbert and Schlosser headed towards the gunfire to help stop the bloodshed in any way that they could, but a wise man once said that no good deed goes unpunished.

As the son of a cop, I’ve gotten quite a bit of first-hand knowledge tossed my way over the years regarding what the job used to be like during the “Golden Age” of American policing. For the most part, the aggressive crime-fighting of yesteryear has been replaced with a softer, gentler style that would make the most subdued and laid-back cop of that era look like Judge Dredd by today’s standards. Can you even imagine a scenario where a Colorado SWAT officer could have gotten booted from their team for responding to Columbine back in ‘99? Me neither. It’s just not the same job anymore, but what can you do? We’re not the same society we once were either.

In this cop’s opinion, Miramar PD’s decision to punish bravery and courage with exile from the SWAT team draws up the sad state of policing in 2018 in a nutshell.

I’m not saying there is no need to evolve or to show restraint.  Take automobile chase policies for example.  To call for a return to the universal “chase anything that doesn’t stop” policy that dominated policing as late as the mid 2000s would be to pretend that decades of collateral damage, catastrophic injuries, and the deaths of bystanders and police officers stemming from chases over charges as petty as expired license plates never took place.

When a person driving through an intersection is killed by a suspect fleeing police for originally running a stop sign, the juice isn’t exactly worth the squeeze.  At the same time, the rigidity of the policy lets repeat felony offenders operate with almost no fear of getting caught while committing felony offenses such as entering autos and smash-and-grabs.  There must be a happier compromise than just waving goodbye as they get away.

If you’ve ever seen a patrol car light up another vehicle on the road, follow for a few seconds, and then when said vehicle refuses to pull over, deactivate those flashing lights and pull a quick U-turn in the opposite direction – then you’ve seen this policy in action. The fact is that the chase is over before it ever gets started unless the officer can articulate the suspect’s possible involvement in committing a forcible felony such as an armed car-jacking, robbery, or otherwise violent act that placed or could place citizens in danger of serious physical injury or death should they escape.

Severe punishment for trying to use the hand tied behind our back in the fight against crime, that is the plight officers sometimes face.

Never mind that the perps in that vehicle are a breaking-and-entering auto crew in a confirmed stolen vehicle that was just spotted breaking into 40 cars in a parking deck somewhere down the road. Any cop who refuses to watch them ride off into the sunset unchallenged is likely to face a suspension at best and potentially unemployment or criminal charges in a worst-case scenario. Severe punishment for trying to use the hand tied behind our back in the fight against crime, that is the plight officers sometimes face.

(Credit: Facebook/Patrick Fazio)

Adopting policy that prioritizes the safety of the community at-large over the apprehension of felony property crimes suspects is one thing. Punishing SWAT-trained officers for responding to an active shooter incident occurring nearby is something else entirely.  In this cop’s opinion, Miramar PD’s decision to punish bravery and courage with exile from the SWAT team draws up the sad state of policing in 2018 in a nutshell.

This era of policing can be summarized by police leadership merely wanting mascot-like public relations out of their personnel while shunning them from taking on real police work that doesn’t fit perfectly within the confines of cookie-cutter departmental policy or public perception.

I’d hate to see what they do to you for a sustained courtesy complaint.

With this decision, Miramar PD has signaled that not even children dying presents an exigent enough circumstance to forgive officers for breaking from liability-minded policies to step up to the plate and do the right thing. Rushing to the scene of a mass murder to help is exactly what you want to see out of a police officer – a warrior/protector’s instinct on full display. Still, Gilbert and Schlosser were ordered to turn in their SWAT-issued rifles a week after the shooting. No discretion and even less common sense was used in doling out that punishment.

According to Tania Rues, a spokesperson for Miramar PD, “…the issue was not that they responded, but that they DID NOT advise.” Rues also went on to say that Gilbert and Schlosser arrived at Parkland after the shooting had concluded and that they didn’t advise dispatch or their SWAT team leaders that they were on scene. Still, to dole out such draconian punishment to officers expressing good faith in the most extraordinary of circumstances seems like an incredible leap to take on the part of the shot-callers at Miramar PD. I’d hate to see what they do to you for a sustained courtesy complaint.

What many police leaders of today don’t understand is that you can still hold your officers accountable with a simple conversation about how they can do better next time.  Throwing the baby out with the bath water is a surefire way to create a bare-minimum culture where officers handle their 911 calls like the customer service rep that answers the phone when you call Comcast. It’s passionless service with no human connection.

Pulling these two aside and advising on the importance of keeping their agency apprised of their whereabouts while initiating police activities would have sufficed in this case. Instead, I envision many Miramar PD officers will be martyring Gilbert and Schlosser adopting a “show up and collect a paycheck” mentality for a while. After all, you can’t get clipped if you never stick your neck out for anyone.

We’re hiring, Investigators Gilbert and Schlosser.  You can use me as a reference.

A few weeks ago, myself and two other officers chased four entering-auto perps through a riverbed in a wooded area after they became cornered in a hotel parking lot and rammed our colleague’s patrol car to escape.  At one point, I was fully submersed in water up to my chest while crossing from one side of the river to the other.  When I got to the other side, I took maybe two steps on dry land before hearing a pop.  Apparently, Tasers aren’t supposed to go swimming and it went off right in my holster – $2,500 down the drain. Taser ruined! At least I didn’t get zapped.

(Credit: Facebook/West Mifflin Police Department)

I had never waded through chest deep water to make an arrest before. When the time came to do it, there was no time to think about whether my Taser should be in the water. In a pinch, I decided to go catch the bad guy because it was my job to do so.  Was it a mistake to go swimming with a lightning stick on my belt that’s worth more than my paycheck? Sure, it was. Did we catch all four entering-auto perps? You’re damn right we did.

The point I’m trying to make is that two officers not so different than myself were navigating unfamiliar territory in Florida when they dropped what they were doing and got their asses to Parkland without notifying their boss or their dispatcher of their whereabouts.  Could they have gotten themselves hurt or killed? Of course. The difference is my department issued me a new Taser and said “try not to junk this one,” while Miramar PD told these officers they weren’t worthy of calling themselves SWAT anymore.

We’re hiring, Investigators Gilbert and Schlosser.  You can use me as a reference.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
T.B. Lefever

T.B. Lefever is an active police officer in the Metro-Atlanta area. Throughout his career, Lefever has served as a SWAT Hostage Negotiator, a member of the Crime Suppression Unit, a School Resource Officer, and a Uniformed Patrol Officer. T.B. is also a certified Field Training Officer. He has a BA in Criminal Justice and Sociology from Rutgers University. Follow T.B. on Twitter @tblefever.

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