Scot Peterson: Misdirected Outrage
By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent
We all know the 4-minute role, or lack thereof, played by Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson on February 14th at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. While the emotional debate continues as to whether Peterson’s actions were cowardly or purposeful, I can’t help but express that our focus has completely derailed. Peterson is a mere representation of far greater issues that plague law enforcement agencies nationwide on a daily basis.
The undervalued hiring process in law enforcement…
Many of us genuinely believe that we, ourselves, would have entered that building in a heartbeat to neutralize the shooter, but we can’t know for certain how we would truly react in the face of death until it faces us. When Peterson accepted his duties as a deputy, he probably believed he’d fight and sacrifice himself in order to protect others. Well, this is obviously not how it played out when it came time to do so. While we may not be able to predict the fight or flight response within ourselves, experts can. Military personnel across the globe undergo various types of interactive personality, psychological, and aptitude tests to determine compatibility with roles in combat and behind the lines. Broward County Sheriff’s Office (BCO) claims to implement the following during the deputy application process: an evaluation of training and experience, a written test, a computer-based test, an interview, a polygraph examination, a psychological evaluation, fingerprint and background checks, a medical examination and a drug screen. Although the list is lengthy, it appears that if a candidate interviews well, proves knowledge of law and policy, is in decent health with no drug use or criminal background and is not diagnosed with psychosis, he or she has a good chance of becoming an officer. This list is void of critical interactive aptitude, personality, and psych exams. Superiors in these organizations are responsible for hiring individuals best fit to protect our citizens. It is their job to fully vet candidates and to detect in them both the qualities necessary and detrimental to the rigorous demands of the job. If upper management doesn’t implement the most essential psych exams during the application process, they will continue to uniform ill-suited individuals who will fail to protect our loved ones during tragic shootings like that of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.
Fear is to be expected… and practiced.
It would be naive to think that any qualified deputy would not experience fear during a shooting. However, lack of action due to natural fear is an indication of an unprepared and insufficiently trained officer. Fear in the line of duty can be tempered and channeled with hours and hours of repetitive response training and tactical preparation. In order to best prepare officers for any life-threatening situation, a trainer must simulate those conditions to induce a similar fear level during training sessions. Officers should then be evaluated based on their situational awareness, active responses and timeliness throughout the simulations. In theory, the more frequently an officer combats these simulated fear-inducing threats, the less anxiety he or she will experience when actually exposed to these conditions, thereby creating an opportunity for the rational, logical and tactical mind to take control. In psychology, this concept is referred to as exposure therapy.¹ Repetitive fear-based training will remove fear as a distraction and equip first responders with the psychological tools necessary to make the most effective split decisions and mitigate evolving threats in the midst of chaos.
Is emergency equipment exacerbating emergencies?
We now know that police communication was hindered by outdated radios that left many transmissions inaudible. Despite the condition of the radios relied upon, the heavy radio traffic and abundance of 911 calls alone severely hampered communication between the officers and the dispatcher, causing even more chaos and confusion surrounding the events of February 14th.
Not only did the radios fail law enforcement that day, however. Another EM failure can be attributed to the “high-tech” surveillance cameras in the school building. The surveillance footage being reviewed at the time of the shooting was on a major delay, leading officers to believe that the shooter was still active inside the building when, in reality, he had left for Walmart 26 minutes prior.
What does it all come down to?
There were countless inexcusable malfunctions that led to seventeen deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. With the quality of technology available to us, there should NEVER be a lag on a high-tech school security camera. There should NEVER be a mass malfunction of the only radios used for immediate law enforcement communication. An armed officer should NEVER disobey active shooter protocols to enter a building upon hearing shots, and upper management should NEVER allow an employee to be in the position to fail to follow these protocols.
This unspeakable tragedy is not on the shoulders of Scot Peterson. This was an epic leadership failure in terms of emergency management communications training and accepted response training. These mass killings CAN be prevented. Law enforcement officials CAN vet deputy applicants more thoroughly to ensure that they WILL make the ultimate sacrifice to protect our people. This equipment CAN be tested regularly and CAN be prepared for massive chaos and overwhelming radio traffic. These officers CAN be trained to combat fear and think rationally in these situations. These departments CAN move faster and make it there in time to save lives. This chaos CAN change… but, will it?
About The Authors
Having served as a security consultant to government, education, and industry, William J. Smith is the Managing Member of AmericanSchoolSafety.com. The firm provides instruction, training, and guidance in all matters of school safety, security, and emergency management. Mr. Smith may be reached via contact information provided at https://www.americanschoolsafety.com/ or by calling 866-531-6560.
Stephanie Kent graduated from Yale University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. During her undergraduate Yale career, she received high honors in various journalism seminars taught by renowned authors and journalists such as Steven Brill and Bruce Shapiro. Among her favorite Yale courses was Forensic Anthropology, where she led facial reconstruction and postmortem identification tasks. Stephanie has gained valuable field experience as a criminal intelligence analyst with an agency in Oklahoma. She is also proud to have traveled the world as a professional tennis player on the WTA circuit.