Dr. Rich Schnieders, pastor, Friendship Grace Brethren Church, Fort Myers, Fla., and a retired major in the Lee County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office, wrote this response to the recent shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Rich serves as a member of the Social Concerns Committee for the Charis Fellowship (Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches). This was first released by the Social Concerns Committee and is shared here with their permission.
Evil visited Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on February 14. That is perhaps the most overlooked fact of this event. It was not the gun that committed this horrific act, it was the evil in the heart of a young man who had been failed by a system designed to protect him. He appeared to have cried out multiple time to be prevented from committing the very acts he committed on February 14. Evil won out because societal systems did not and possibly could not have prevented the events of February 14.
The failures in both local and federal law enforcement appear to be the result of the liberal drift in our society. As a 30-year law enforcement officer who for more than three years commanded a School Resource Officer program in public schools, I am very careful to not criticize law enforcement operations without knowing the facts. I do understand how cries for help fall through the cracks. Particularly with the demonization of law enforcement that has occurred over the last decade. It is reasonable to believe that if local law enforcement were aggressive in dealing with every complaint they receive which claims to know someone will become a school shooter local law enforcement would have been labeled heavy-handed and creating a police state. The critics of law enforcement have the privilege of hindsight to know that the signs seen in the 26 contacts with local law enforcement were accurate. The law enforcement officers making the contacts had no such privilege. It is also safe to assume that all 26 contacts were not made by the same officer. There really is no mechanism to put those 26 disparate contacts together.
There was also a failure on the federal law enforcement level as well. Tips were received on the federal level concerning posts on social media that appeared to have been suggesting school violence. Federal law enforcement reviewed the tips but did not proceed any further. I have heard by pundits on the various news stations that all they needed to do was check their database to determine the IP address of the sender and then check out the sender. The problem is there is no database apart from on TV shows that contain the IP addresses of every message. Federal law enforcement is required to obtain a subpoena, and in some cases, a search warrant to obtain subscriber information from the provider. Subpoenas and search warrants take a judicial review to obtain and a level of information that federal law enforcement did not have. Could federal law enforcement have done more? Yes, possibly they could have viewed open source information and observed more than what the tips contained. But with thousands of tips every day, hundreds of thousands of tips every year, there simply is not enough time or staff to fully investigate every tip. In hindsight, they should have done more. But the tips received were part of the thousands of tips received and reviewed by federal law enforcement.
The mental health system also failed in this case. The shooter was evaluated by the mental health system, again without the privilege of hindsight. Florida does have a system that allows law enforcement to apprehend and deliver for evaluation those that appear to be a danger to themselves and others. The statute provides for a 72 hour period of commitment to evaluate. But in reality, most are released in less than 24 hours because someone else is waiting for the bed. Funding of these mental health systems is inadequate to meet the need.
The mental health system is also plagued by the liberal drift in our society. The individual rights of a person are greater in many cases than the security rights of the community. Liberal drift has forced the mental health system to release without any supervision all but the worst and most violent people. It has become more important to protect the rights of the individual rather than the security of the community.
What is missing from this situation is a way to fuse all the disparate information together so the true picture could be seen before the event taking place. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks local areas, states, and regional fusion centers were established to fuse data together from multiple sources to reveal patterns that may not be seen when only looking at one piece of data. The fusion centers have had tremendous success in presenting to law enforcement and policymakers a better picture of the situation in their region. But these fusion centers have been criticized by many for viewing data, both secret and open source, and making assumptions from that data that may lead to positive police action without a crime being committed, yet. That is what would have been needed in this case to put all these disparate pieces of information together. A fusion center would have needed access to the mental health records, local law enforcement records, federal law enforcement records, open source social media records and any other data on the shooter. They would then have had to have put the data together and evaluated it. It is a daunting task when terrorism is the target. Now amplify that by thousands, just in the local fusion center, to see before an evil action is committed by the shooter.
Systems failed because the system is not capable of preventing every action. Many events are prevented every day by local law enforcement and mental health professionals. Most often these events are not even made public to protect the privacy of the suspect. The authorities must be right every time, or someone falls through the cracks, and we have a catastrophic event. Most often those who fall through the crack do not commit such horrific acts.
So, I am careful not to criticize to quickly the failure of the system. But I am willing to criticize the armed deputies that remained outside of the school in a defensive position while shots continued to ring out inside the school. To be fair, that was the protocol prior to the Columbine School shooting 20 years ago. Post-Columbine the protocol was to address the shooter as quickly as possible. Particularly with a team of four deputies present. A full active shooter formation can make its way to confront the shooter while protecting the formation in all four directions. This is the current training in most U.S. law enforcement agencies. Most agencies train on this often and School resource officer every year. The job of a sworn law enforcement officer is to eliminate the threat, even if that means he has to place himself in danger to accomplish that. Praise should be given to the police officers who responded to the scene and entered the school while the deputies waited outside. Even though by the time they entered the shooter had left the campus, they did not know that. They were willing to face danger face to face to protect the students, as they should have as they had sworn to do. What was in the minds of the deputies outside? I don’t know, and until they defend their actions, none of us will know. I suspect the liberal drift played a large part in their thought process. Not wanting to confront and potentially kill a student. The judgment that would be leveled against them over the weeks and months to come on a decision they made in a split second. They waited four minutes which will be judged for four years and more. The treatment law enforcement has received over the last decade I am sure contributed to their thought process.
So how do I as a Christian, a follower of Jesus, respond to such evil in the world today? I begin with prayer for the victims and their families of this most recent event. I pray that they are comforted by their family and friends and that this event may serve as a vehicle to lead them to Christ. That God would be ultimately be glorified and many would come to know Him through this event. I am also reminded that both the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul have told us we are to be in subjection to those in authority over us, even those who carry the sword, law enforcement. We must support local and federal law enforcement. Even after what appears to be a failure of local law enforcement we still are required to be in subjection to the authorities. We should be praying for local and federal law enforcement. Their job is very difficult in the best of times. It is made almost impossible in the wake of such events.
We should also focus on the examples of self-sacrifice seen in this event. The coach who shielded students with his own body. He lay dead, the students unharmed. What a picture of salvation! We must not forget that God is not surprised by these events. He is sovereign and completely in control. We also must not forget that evil is present every day in the world. Law enforcement confronts evil every day in a physical sense. We as followers of Jesus should confront evil in a spiritual sense. The only way evil will ever be defeated is through the power of God working through us. We must be involved in praying for our local and federal law enforcement. We must be involved in praying and supporting mental health efforts in our community. But we should also be involved in reaching our world for Jesus. That is the only way that we will dent the evil in our communities. Allow events as we saw on February 14 to motivate you to share with your community the only real force against evil, Jesus Christ.
Also, I am speaking now as a retired law enforcement officer, go out of your way to support the police officers when you see them. Thank them for doing a job most would not do. If you see them in line to get a cup of coffee or in a restaurant, pick up the tab for them. The apparent cowardice of some deputies in Broward County will have an effect on every gun-toating, badge-wearing law enforcement officer in the country. As I write this 14 law enforcement officers have been killed so far this year by gunfire. This is 2/3rds of all line of duty deaths so far this year. This is an alarming rate of gun-related death of law enforcement officers. Every law enforcement officer feels the pain of their brothers and sisters in arms being gunned down. So when the combination of the shame of the cowardice and the apparent war on police officers reaches down to the very soul of every law enforcement officer, they struggle with it. They need to feel that their community cares for them and appreciates what they do every day, the evil they face. Consider ways that your church can publicly support local law enforcement, law enforcement day with public recognition in a service. Goody baskets delivered to local stations and precincts.
Above all pray that this event is used by God to ultimately bring glory to Him.