Sheriff urges ‘harm mitigation’ for school shootings

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BY DARA KAM
NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

HAVANA – Three minutes and 51 seconds. 

That’s how long it took Nikolas Cruz to kill 17 students and staff members and injure another 17 during last year’s shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. 

And that’s the timeframe Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri repeated again and again during a presentation to law enforcement officers and educators Wednesday.

‘Head in the sand’ 

“Anybody who thinks it’s not going to happen again is just being unrealistic, is being naïve and probably has their head in the sand,” Gualtieri told a crowd of more than 250 people gathered at a rural counties’ “Violence Against Children in a Modern Society” summit in Gadsden County. 

Gualtieri, a no-nonsense law officer who is also a lawyer, has drawn national attention through his role as chairman of a statewide commission that has explored the events leading up to the horrific Broward County shooting and the response to it. The commission issued a 458-page report, which included dozens of recommendations, in January.

Speaking earlier to law enforcement officers and education workers at the summit, Gualtieri repeatedly stressed the importance of “harm mitigation.” 

“Identify the threat, communicate the threat, react to the threat,” he said. “Harm mitigation is accepting the premise that it is going to happen, and you want to stop it as soon as it starts. One person shot is too many, but one person is better than 34.” 

‘No excuse’ 

Gualtieri showed little patience for schools that are not complying with safety requirements passed by the Legislature last year after the shooting and strengthened during this year’s legislative session. 

“Focus on the low-cost and no-cost things like having a hard-corner policy and having training,” he said. “There are so many things that can be done to make a difference and make the schools safer, that don’t cost anything. There is no excuse for not doing it. All it takes is a decision maker to have the will to say, ‘We are doing it’ and to hold people accountable for not doing it.” 

This year’s school-safety legislation expanded the “guardian” program, which authorizes specially trained school personnel to be armed. The expansion will allow full-time teachers to join the program, a move that was recommended by the commission. 

Changed his mind 

Gualtieri at one time had insisted that only trained law enforcement officers should be allowed to carry guns at schools, but he said his view has changed, “based on facts, based on evidence, and based on what we have learned.” 

Only half of Florida’s 4,000 schools have a full-time school resource officer, who is usually a deputy, Gualtieri said. And police departments are unable to fill vacancies. He said expanding the pool of people – “with the right mindset, the right skill set” and rigorous training – who can bring guns to schools will make campuses safer. 

Opponents of allowing teachers to participate in the guardian program served up a “parade of horribles” as the proposal was being considered this year, Gualtieri said. 

“What if this. What if that. I don’t know. What if? What if we got 34 shot and killed people in three minutes and 51 seconds? No greater parade of horribles,” he said.

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