Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel's image-rebuilding effort took a major hit Thursday when 85 percent of the deputies who voted in the International Union of Police Associations, Local IUPA 6020, electronic balloting used their votes to say they want Israel gone.
Israel's only ray of light in the union count is the no-show total: The number of deputies who didn't vote outnumbered the ones who did. Of a 1,300-member roster, the union received back ballots from 628 deputies -- 534 of them expressing their dissatisfaction.
On Friday, April 20, the union local sent out electronic ballots. Members were asked to lodge their collective opinion on Israel's future following tempestuous months within their ranks as a result of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Israel had become a lightning rod in the weeks after the tragedy, at first appearing as a media fixture, later becoming the focus of negative speculation. As evidence emerged of inaction taken by his deputies during the shooting, and his department failing to intervene with the shooter after numerous visits to his home, Israel was eventually viewed as the sheriff whose inadequate leadership had let his troops down.
Gov. Rick Scott was lobbied to exert his power to suspend the sheriff; he opted instead to call for a full review. Currently, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating Broward Sheriff's Office actions relating to shooter Nikolas Cruz's slaughter of 14 students and three teachers on Feb. 14. Meanwhile, 73 state legislators have formally called for Israel to step down.
There have been reports seeping out of the Sheriff's Office of an erosion of morale among deputies. Union representative Jeff Bell instigated the confidence/no confidence vote as a result of numerous problems his officers face. Israel, meanwhile, has positioned this vote as merely a means of getting pay raises -- what he actually described as “extortion” -- even as Bell stated pay raises were not the driving factor.
Another union within the Office has lent support to Israel. On April 23 the Federation of Public Employees, which represents 2,500 Broward Sheriff's employees -- not deputies -- issued a letter of support to the sheriff. “As your largest union, we support you and have confidence in how you are running this large complex agency.” The letter referenced the near-unanimous approval of its last contract as a vote of confidence.
In describing the vote instigated by Bell to be a ploy, Israel declared, “It is unfortunate and appalling that the IUPA union boss -- in the midst of ongoing labor contract salary negotiations -- is trying to use the Parkland tragedy as a bargaining tactic to extort a 6.5 percent pay raise from BSO.”
But Bell dismisses Israel's assessment.
The Union head stated his primary focus is on Israel’s actions following the shooting, and particularly how the sheriff verbally laid blame on one deputy on scene, Scot Peterson, who failed to enter the school and engage the shooter. Bell relays that many deputies were upset with Israel for publicly referring to Peterson’s actions as "cowardly," something his deputies are now hearing the public hurl at them.
What has been revealing is that in the aftermath of the shooting, with numerous issues exposed inside Israel’s department, the sheriff has been more focused on repairing his own image. A non-profit group, headed by his campaign manager, was formed to raise money so it could hire a crisis management firm to prop up Israel’s flagging public image. His priority has not been on the problems in his own department, evidenced by the union voting to express concerns within its body.
Thursday’s vote results are not binding in any way. What Bell is hoping will next transpire is that this blatant show of dissatisfaction will become an impetus for Gov. Scott to remove Israel. He has said he will present the vote tabulation showing mass displeasure among deputies to the governor, who is perfectly entitled to suspend Israel and appoint a replacement if he so chooses.
Brad Slager is a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer who writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.