Wednesday, November 30 2022


My first thought watching Sheriff Eric Flowers talk about school safety during an interview with a West Palm Beach-based CBS affiliate TV reporter earlier this month?

In the name of Barney Fife, what does he do?

There was Flowers — who looked too much like the goofy assistant from “The Andy Griffith Show” — bragging about something no one was supposed to know, just to make himself look smarter and tougher than everyone else.

“If they come our way with an AR-15,” Flowers said, referring to the school’s potential shooters, “we’ll come back with the same or greater firepower.”

In other words: if a bad guy with a gun shows up in one of our schools, there will be a well-armed good guy ready to open fire.

In fact, Flowers went on to reveal that each School Resource Officer (SRO) and Assistant is equipped with an AR-15 assault rifle which, during the school day, is stored in a safe in an office on the campus, where the weapon can be quickly accessed if needed.

The ORS bring the guns home at the end of the day – they are locked in a carrying case, so the students never see them – and then bring them back to school each morning.

“Our people are here to protect the children,” Flowers said in the interview, during which he said the SROs are trained and prepared to deal with the threat posed by school shooters.

“Bringing guns to campuses only makes schools safer,” he added. “We saw what happened at Parkland. We saw what happened in Uvalde. Our people are not going to sit back and wait for something bad to happen to the children of Indian River County.

While the practice of putting an AR-15 in every school may worry some parents — the concept is, to say the least, controversial — there are credible arguments on both sides.

That’s a debate for another day, though.

What is troubling is Flowers’ decision to announce to the world school safety measures that are discussed every year in closed meetings with school board members and senior district administrators.

These measures are supposed to remain secret, and they should be.

I have spoken to military veterans and experienced law enforcement officers, and each of them has said to me: there is no good reason to tell enemy combatants the specific types of weapons you dispose of, where these weapons are stored, or how and when they are transported.

So why did Flowers do it?

Better yet: why did he choose to release such sensitive information now?

And why didn’t he – if only out of professional courtesy – inform school district officials of his intention to go public?

I presented these questions to both Flowers and the Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer, Lt. Joe Abollo, over the weekend, but neither responded, despite the buzz created by the revelation. .

Video of Flowers’ interview is circulating on social media, and the story has been picked up by news outlets and websites across America as students return to school.

As you’d expect, even the National Rifle Association took to Instagram with a “Hats Off” to Flowers for “doing the right thing and protecting our students!”

The truth is, putting AR-15s in schools wasn’t Flowers’ idea.

These assault rifles have been in our schools for two years, dating back to Flowers’ predecessor Deryl Loar, a three-term sheriff who embraced the policy after discussions with his undersheriff – Jim Harpring, now Indian City Manager River Shores – and school district officials.

For those who don’t know: Harpring served on the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which was formed after the mass shooting in Parkland.

The school board here approved the purchase of on-campus gun safes in December 2019, when members voted to share the cost with the sheriff’s office and other local law enforcement agencies. .

Before the safes were installed, the SROs kept guns in their patrol cars, which were parked on campus. Now SROs no longer need to leave the building to retrieve the guns, allowing them to fire more accurately from a greater distance.

However, few school officials were aware that the AR-15s were on county campuses. Even the school superintendent, David Moore, didn’t know they were there.

“The policy was in place before I arrived,” Moore said, “and nobody told me.”

You can then understand why Moore and the school board members were stunned when they learned of Flowers’ interview, which left them both perplexed and concerned.

“I was not a happy camper,” said school board president Teri Barenborg.

“I had no idea this was going to happen. I thought it was confidential information. I don’t think we should be having these conversations in public.

She said school district officials meet at least once a year to discuss school safety, and because the information was so sensitive, those sessions were always held behind closed doors in executive session.

“The reason these meetings are closed to the public and the media,” said school board member Mara Schiff, “is that we don’t want to advertise how we’re securing our schools.”

School board vice president Peggy Jones was alarmed by Flowers’ willingness to provide details about weapons in schools, and she plans to speak about it when school officials meet with officials from the school. enforcement next month.

“I don’t know why he would do that,” she said. “I wonder how he would have felt if a member of the school board had released this information without consulting him.”

Fortunately, despite a series of other disruptions on campus last year, the ORS hasn’t needed to arm itself with AR-15s in the two years that safes have been in schools.

Hopefully that won’t change.

And, perhaps, that was Flowers’ intention all along – to get on TV and scare off every would-be school shooter with a macho talk about AR-15 assault rifles.

It’s fair to wonder, though, if her decision to do the interview was an attempt to rehabilitate her image after her extramarital affair was publicly exposed and her deputies were involved in a couple of questionable shootings.

Regardless of his motivation, Flowers, who talks so much about transparency, should have told Moore and Barenborg that he planned to mock AR-15s.

Maybe one of them would have convinced him to hold his fire.

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