Posed to: Frank Mackesy, Chief of Police
On February 11th around 6PM a call was made to the police about an armed individual in the arena parking garage on UNF’s campus. Many faculty, staff, and students were not notified about this incident via the Safe Ospreys system until 7 PM. Instead, many found out about the incident via the television and the Spinnaker’s article that was published around 6:22 PM. If there was a credible threat on campus, it only takes a minute or two for the situation to be threatening to those in the vicinity of the report, but in this case, it took more than 20 minutes for information to get out. What is the university doing to ensure that faculty, staff, and students are immediately notified about initial reports of potentially hazardous situations? What metrics are being audited to ensure that when an emergency notification is sent it is delivered in a timely fashion?
On Feb. 11, First Coast News reported a possible armed individual in garage 38 and heavy police presence at 6:20pm. It looks like their report was based on a Twitter account – tweeted at 6:02pm. I just got a message at 7pm from the university. Earlier in the day we got a message about possible stolen shoes and sunglasses from a residence hall room. What is the protocol for getting important information out to the university community?
It has been several weeks since the failure to notify the campus community of the threat of a person with a gun in the arena garage. The only thing we’ve heard is that there was a technology problem. The campus community deserves to know exactly what happened, who is responsible, and what has changed. We are notified when the alert system is tested. We are notified when a student is missing shoes from a dorm room. Someone failed during what could have been a tragedy. When will we find out what actually happened, who is responsible, and changes being made?
Response from the floor: Response from Frank Mackesy, Chief of Police
A. Hi, everybody, I’m Frank Mackesy, and I’m your chief of police. I know some of you, some of you I’ve had the opportunity to meet and I just want to thank you for the opportunity to come talk to you today talking, because this is something that has kept me awake since February 11, because the safety and security of you and our students and our staff is very, very important to me and the men and women of UPD. So just to give you a synopsis of what happened, we received a phone call, you know, right around five to six (5:55pm) saying that there was a person in a green shirt, Hispanic or white male armed with a rifle.
That call took a minute and 18 seconds and the call was dispatched to UPD personnel within 20 seconds. Within a minute and 30, 35 seconds, I had three officers at the garage armed with rifles searching for someone. Now what I would like to share with you is this: over half of the officers that work for the UPD are retired JSO officers, so they have a lot of experience in dealing with things like. Immediately upon arrival they started deploying personnel. Now, folks, on a fully solid night with nobody sick or nobody off, we have five people. We got lucky this particular day. It happened around 10 minutes to six, shift change is happening, so I had like eight or nine officers, and officers that weren’t on duty yet self deployed without their ballistic shields and their rifles, only armed with handguns in an effort to go to contact with what could have been a shooter.
So remember now within a minute 38 seconds, we had three to four officers there. Then within the next few minutes we had that place covered up. The problem we had there was people were going to their cars. People were trying to get in the garage. The officers who have all this experience, most of them on the scene have 25, 30 years’ experience immediately recognize this could be possibly be a hoax. OK. The reason for that is this, there were no other calls by anybody else that there was somebody on campus in that garage with a gun. The other part of that was when we were attempting to call the complainant back—so, folks, it’s easy to sit here and try and have an appreciation; until you’ve lived it, you can’t. It’s the fog of war; it’s controlled chaos. So the dispatch center here, who usually just gets calls to come unlock your doors because you’re always losing your keys, the dispatch center here is getting covered up. In a 35-to-40-minute period, we had 346 calls to that com center while they were trying to dispatch officers, make sure they did the emergency alerts, make sure that the officers here were getting information from the complainant, things of that nature.
Every time we called the complainant back after the original call, except for once, she hung up on us. So now we have an uncooperative complainant and we also have no one else in this university environment calling us to say that there’s somebody with a gun. So immediately they’re thinking it’s a hoax, but, folks, in our business, we don’t assume it’s a hoax. We call it a hoax when we’re done. Eight entrances and exits, four floors, we got the sheriff’s office coming. I mean the cavalry’s rolling out. I know you might have difficulty believing me when I say this to you right now, but you were never in any danger. But that doesn’t mean you weren’t scared, and I apologize for that. Because what happened is in the fog of war, my dispatcher in the dispatch center created a message to tell you to stay away from Garage 38 and if you were going to Garage 38 to find some place else to go and shelter in place until we finished searching Garage 38, and he pushed the button for email instead of text messaging. That’s what happened.
Now the messaging that was conducted in that heat of the war—again, folks, I want to remind you had at any time we thought you were in any danger the protocol was 180 degrees difference to what we follow, but nevertheless it scared people. Now we’re not here to scare you. We’re here to try to do the best we can to make you feel more comfortable in a situation that is going to scare you. At 6:11pm, that button was pushed. The reason it was pushed at 6:11 is, well, first of all, if you expect your police department to beat social media on this campus toreport, anything that’s happening, you’re always going to be mad at me because I can’t beat ’em. I can’t beat them. It’s absolutely impossible. The question said that there was a, uh, they saw a 6:02 Twitter. We had a student standing there tweeting it live on their cell phone while we’re searching the garage. The reason we didn’t want people going to Garage 38 is because the officers are amped up to and they’re carrying. Many of you may not know this, but we’re armed with an AR-15—that’s a long gun. It’s a semiautomatic mode and if you have a rifle that you’re going against, the best defense is another rifle. And believe it or not, the rifle is safer and more accurate than this handgun. So they’re searching and all these people are walking up on ’em, so this is how it goes down. I almost brought the audio clip for you, but I didn’t know if it was appropriate or not. This is how it goes down in police talk. One sergeant says to the other: “sergeant So-and-so, do you think we ought to ask them to keep people away from the garage?” “Yes.” “HQ 10.26.” That’s how long that conversation lasted. HQ10.26 is, did you hear what we said and do you copy?
I have laid awake at night long before this event occurred worrying about your safety and trying to make sure that we’re equipped. Now I could give you reasons and unless you specifically ask me to, I don’t want to because it’ll sound like excuses. I accept full responsibility for what happened to the other night. I want you to know I had measures in place to protect against human failures, but I guess I didn’t do it <inaudible>.
So the answer to the question about what is being done now. The day after this event occurred, nine o’clock the next morning—I went to sleep about three o’clock that morning, woke up about 4:30, my mind racing—I met with a group of the senior leadership from the university and the president of the university on what we call in our business a hotwash. Whenever we do something like this, we always critique ourselves, because, folks, I’m here to tell you my standard is excellence, but I know that I’m never going to achieve it because I’ve been doing this now for 39 years. I was with the sheriff’s office in a very high position where I was at the scene of 200 officer-involved shootings and many, many, many, many, many more SWAT call-outs, and I can tell you after every incident of there’s something you can do better. If we don’t continue to strive to do better, we’re going to get complacent and when we get complacent, that’s when innocent people get hurt. When I was in the police academy, they told me one day I might have to do violence on your behalf against the bad guy. They never once ever told me that I might have to be involved in hurting a good guy, and I won’t start now. I’m an alumnus here, I have a BBA and an MBA from UNF. The reason why I’m here is because I love this university, and the last thing I want to do is anything that tarnishes its brand or its reputation. I was successful in my career—if you measure that kind of thing—because of my education.
Now, what is being done going forward? We have an outside consultant who is looking at com, center dispatch, police dispatch center procedures. The question talked about metrics. We don’t have a lot of metrics in what we do. You don’t want to count arrests or tickets or anything like that. I’m not a proponent of that. But we do have standards—we are a fully accredited law enforcement agency, and we have standards that we are measured against, and we are doing a hotwash of our standards based upon performance, based upon what the best practices require.
I’m not offering any excuses, but what I will tell you is this: I’m happy that you were safe that night.. I’m not happy that some of you may be angry with us because you were scared. But from my perspective I’d rather you be safe and mad at me than unsafe and not mad at me. But know this: it is not my intention to ever make you angry. This is community policing 101. We care about you, folks. Officers have bad days. Dispatchers have bad days, but we are working to fix this as much as we can through enhanced technology. Look, the dispatcher was just trained in December once again how to use the system. It’s the first time in the history of the university police department that this type of alert was sent out and it happened on my lucky Irish watch. So I hope that answers your questions. I want you to know that I absolutely believe that the report that comes out that is going to be shared with everybody, it is a public record, we have nothing to hide. And I believe if you mess up, you dress up, and you ’fess up. And that’s what’s what we need to do.