There are three distinct reasons that Grady Judd, the sheriff of Polk County, Fla., is one of the top law enforcement officers in the country. Just last week he was named as president of the Major-Cities Sheriff’s Association -- he’s that good. Also last week he begged America to arm itself, rigid in his belief the best way to stop school shootings and other mass incidents is by shooting back -- with “good guns.”
But what has endeared the 45-year veteran to law-and-order lovers all across America goes back to 2006 when the sheriff and his men closed in on a thug who had just killed a police officer in a traffic stop. When the varmint raised the fallen officer’s weapon against the sheriff’s men, they shot at him 110 times, killing him instantly when 68 of the bullets found their mark. Asked why his deputies had shot 110 times, the sheriff’s reply went down in criminology lore for perpetuity: “That’s all the bullets we had.”
As a new week dawns in our home town, fabled Chattanooga coach and educator Ernie McCarson who dedicated a lifetime to “his kids,” informed me Sunday that a surprising number of teachers in Hamilton County – as well as north Georgia ---would not hesitate for the chance to “protect their kids.” Ernie tells me, “I know a lot who wouldn’t necessarily enjoy it but who would do anything to keep their children safe. And in Hamilton County, our students are our teachers’ children.”
Ernie’s comments reflect a Facebook post by Sheriff Judd that was viewed over 100,000 times within 24 hours following the Florida tragedy where 16 students were killed.
Sheriff Judd believes – and I do too -- there is not one parent of a child at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl., who would not have taken a firearm and tried to stop the crazed gunman. “If just one faculty member had been armed it might have been a ‘game changer’ … everything could have been different.”
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond, who shares a friendship with Sheriff Judd, said as much last Friday. “A shooting incident lasts only minutes … a fast police response takes five minutes. That’s too late to be most effective.”
In 2016 Sheriff Judd took it upon himself to create the Sentinel Program at Southeastern University in Lakeland. Faculty members are carefully selected to carry firearms on the chance there is an assault on campus.
“We go through the staff and we look to see who has the clean background,” he said. “In addition to that, we do psychological evaluations. Then we do great amounts of training, even more than the Florida police standards require.”
Judd says military veterans, experienced hunters and lawful gun owners are already in the schools. “What is critical is that we have to wake up and understand that we have to have specially-trained people who can immediately run to the threat and protect our children.”
Every school in Florida, as well as Tennessee, is a “gun free zone” but crazed persons have repeatedly shown they don’t abide by those policies. Judd made headlines last November when, after a shooting at a Texas church, he told reporters, “Think about it … a guy shows up with an AK-47, and lots of ammunition and it is easy to shoot people with nobody shooting back. But all of that changed – instantly – when a neighbor shows up with a gun and starts shooting back.”
In the Texas shooting, where 26 were killed, the gunman was killing crying babies point-blank because no one could shoot back until Stephen Williford arrived and exchanged gunfire. Williford and another man chased the gunman from the church, prompting Sheriff Judd to say afterwards, “A good person with a gun is an attribute, not a danger … as long as we live in denial that it can’t happen to me … and there is nobody to fight back, anyone who wants to can freely harm us because there is no resistance.”
Judd urges every one: “Go back through all the shootings … historically there is no active resistance. Without immediate resistance, more and more people will be shot.”
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office has taught active-shooter prevention to churches, business owners, synagogues, mosques and any other who will listen. Sheriff Judd also teaches a primary rule. When a protector is confronted by an active shooter, “Shoot them, Shoot them a lot. Shoot them until they can’t shoot anybody else. Shoot until the threat is neutralized.”
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“We don’t choose to shoot people, they choose for us to shoot them. And if you choose for us to shoot at you, we’re gonna shoot at you… a lot. It is a very fatal mistake to shoot at my deputies." Grady Judd, Sheriff, Polk Co., Florida
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The command staff at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, cannot believe so many warning signs went unnoticed but you’ll not hear them condemn the FBI, the sheriff’s office that was called “at least 20 times” or school officials. “Mistakes can be fixed, remedied, but there are 16 young people whose lives can never be replaced,” said Hammond. “You think there might have been a fine lawyer, some nurses, maybe a coach or police officer in our nation’s future.
“The cost to equip all of our county schools with a safety officer is high. Metal detectors at our schools is expensive … but compared to the millions of dollars these 16 kids could have generated for the rest of their lives … think of the ripple effect,” the sheriff mused.
“We have to prepare for the worst. We’ll still pray for the best but it is obvious we’ve got to tackle this and tackle it hard right now.”
As Monday arrives, read Coach McCarson’s note: “Let’s make Feb. 19th count for something.”