Atlantic Beach Police Chief: 'Quit' If You Won't Run Toward Gunfire

Feb 26, 2018

A Northeast Florida police chief is receiving widespread praise across social media in response to a tweet she posted calling for police officers to quit the force if they’re unwilling to put their lives on the line when duty calls.

“If you are a police officer and you think to yourself for even one second that you will not be able to run towards the gunfire…please quit now. We won’t be mad. Innocent lives depend on us to act," wrote Atlantic Beach Police Chief Michelle Cook, adding #dontletthemdown.

Our News4Jax partner reports the February 22 tweet came the same day Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel announced the resignation of Deputy Scot Peterson, the school resource deputy assigned to protect Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Peterson was armed and on campus when a gunman stormed the school's freshman building Feb. 14. He remained outside of the building while a gunman went on a rampage inside that killed 17 people. Peterson resigned rather than face discipline.

Law enforcement became a magnet for criticism after the mass shooting. Critics were outraged by the FBI's failure to properly follow up on a credible tip about shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz. They also questioned why Cruz flew under the radar when he was the subject of many calls for service.

Still, it was the inaction of Peterson that took center stage. President Donald Trump suggested to a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference that the deputy either froze or "was a coward." Israel said Peterson should have confronted the shooter.

Attorney Joseph Diruzzo, who represents Peterson, defended his client's behavior in a statement provided to multiple news organizations. He said Peterson's response was appropriate because the gunshots were at first believed to be firecrackers.

Dirruzo added that once Peterson realized he heard gunshots, his actions were consistent with his training.

"Peterson heard gunshots but believed that those gunshots were originating from outside of any of the buildings," Diruzzo stated, according to Local10.com. "BSO trains its officers that in the event of outdoor gunfire one is to seek cover and assess the situation in order to communicate what one observes."

Cook, who became police chief last June after leaving the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, told News4Jax reporter Jim Piggott that now is the time for law enforcement officers to look themselves in the mirror and ask the tough questions.

"Every officer needs to have a conversation with themselves and ask, 'Am I willing to go in if faced with similar circumstances?'" said Cook, adding that she believed most officers would risk their own lives to save those of others.

"The part B to that is you have to continue to train. You can't rely on training that's 5, 10, 15 years old. You've got to get up to date with the training that's out there, the best practices and lessons learned," she said.

Cook's tweet has been shared more than 600 times and liked more than 1,200 times since it was first posted Feb. 22.