Huh? Two SWAT officers suspended for responding to Parkland massacre

One sheriff’s deputy has “retired” for not running to the fire during a mass shooting at a Parkland high school. The Miami Herald reported yesterday that two other police officers got suspended from their SWAT assignments because they ran to the fire. Jeffrey Gilbert and Carl Schlosser were working in Coral Springs when they heard about the incident and wanted to help — and that may end their SWAT careers:

As word spread that an armed attacker was shooting up a Parkland high school, two members of the Miramar Police Department’s SWAT team responded to the scene.

They had been training in nearby Coral Springs earlier that day and wanted to help end a deadly mass shooting that claimed 17 lives.

But their own commander said he didn’t know they were going. And the Broward Sheriff’s Office — worried about over-crowding a chaotic scene with law enforcement officers — didn’t ask for them to show up. BSO already had its own SWAT team in motion.

Eight days after the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the two Miramar officers, Det. Jeffery Gilbert and Det. Carl Schlosser, were temporarily suspended from duty with the SWAT team. They remain on active duty with the department, according to a Miramar police spokeswoman.

This sounds ridiculous at first, and it still might be an overreaction. However, it’s not completely unhinged, either. Be sure to read the entire article from the Herald’s Nicholas Nehamas, because it raises some pertinent issues that make this more than just a Bureaucrats Gone Mad story.

First, the two skipped a critical step in failing to contact their own police department, who had no idea that they might be going into a dangerous situation. Had they contacted their chain of command, they might have been able to coordinate into the response from either the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, which had their own SWAT team on the way, or with Coral Springs police, who actually made first entry into the building. Without knowledge of their whereabouts, their commander would not have been able to coordinate that response, or more importantly let the other agencies know of their presence. The report does not say whether the two detectives were in uniform for their training, but if not, their unannounced presence could have caused more confusion in a very deadly environment.

Second, Miramar had already sent over additional uniformed officers and a victim advocate after hearing of the mass shooting, coordinating that with BSO command. They also placed their SWAT team on standby, which is likely where Gilbert and Schlosser would have been directed to go had they contacted their command as required.

Notably, their suspension only applies to their SWAT assignment, not to their active-duty status. SWAT stands for Special Weapons and Tactics, and the latter means coordination as a team rather than individuals. The courage of the two men in wanting to run to the fire is undeniably commendable, but going outside the chain of command is a poor tactical choice, especially in someone else’s jurisdiction. Nehamas spoke with retired Miami Beach detective Pat Franklin, who emphasized this point:

“This is not their area, this is not their jurisdiction,” said Franklin, who consults with law enforcement agencies on internal affairs investigations. “You don’t want to let those guys loose into something that’s chaotic where they might take inappropriate action. It is prudent to have them stand down unless there is a plan.”

It’s a valid point, and reinforcing the chain of command is a vital point in law enforcement. Miramar PD has to enforce that chain of command in order to maintain proper discipline, and proper discipline in law enforcement is something we all should value.

It’s not the only value, though, which is why this still rankles. It appears that the BSO response was insufficiently assertive and that might have cost lives, so having two men demonstrate this kind of bravery and dedication provides an even starker contrast to the apparent failures of the official response. We want to reward that kind of dedication and bravery rather than punish people for it. Hopefully, Gilbert and Schlosser will get reinstated to SWAT duty after an appropriate reminder of the need to act within the chain of command, which seems like the most just outcome.

Update: In one place, I mistakenly referred to “Coral Gables” instead of Coral Springs. I’ve fixed it now.