Yes, Sheriff Israel, it is your responsibility

The questioning was intense, and Capt. Kirk looked worried.

He and Dr. McCoy were on trial for their lives in front of a Klingon tribunal, and the prosecution was the nefarious Gen. Chang, close advisor and friend to the slain chancellor, Gorkon. Capt. Kirk, Chang declared, was responsible for the murder.

Kirk demurred. He hadn’t done it. He hadn’t seen it done. “I cannot confirm or deny actions I did not witness,” he said on being questioned about two members of his crew beaming onto the chancellor’s ship, ultimately executing him.

“Capt. Kirk,” Chang shot back, “are you aware that as the captain of a starship you are required to be responsible for the actions of your men?”

A pause, as Kirk considered the question.

“I am,” he replied.

“And if it should be proved that members of your crew did in fact carry out such an assassination?”

The courtroom erupted into an argument, with Kirk’s legal counsel ordering him to not answer the question. The judge, however, dismissed this and gave him no choice. He had to answer the question.

“As captain, I am responsible for the conduct of the crew under my command.”

Chang rested his case, and Kirk was ultimately found guilty by the court and sentenced to the Klingon version of a gulag.

This scene I am describing, of course, came in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,” which was an incredibly intelligent allegory for the end of the Cold War. But setting aside the silliness of the environment and setting, the courtroom scene taught a very important lesson in leadership.

Leaders are responsible for the conduct of those that serve under them.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

This notion is as old as the concept of leadership, but in the popular American mind, it was most popularized by President Harry Truman, who famously had a sign on his desk saying, “the buck stops here.”

The saying comes from the notion of “passing the buck,” and a declaration that it “stops here” at the leader’s desk essentially means that the leader is ultimately responsible for the eventuality of all decisions that result from his leadership.

Ownership of the buck comes not just from direct decisions by a leader, but also applies to the environment one fosters in those below them. Who they hire, what they expect, and the culture and integrity of a place.

These things flow from the people in charge, whether it is the president of the United States, or a store manager at your local Hannaford.

This lesson is entirely lost on Sheriff Scott Israel of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.

In the wake of the most recent school shooting in Florida, his leadership — or should I say lack of leadership — has been on full display for the world, and it has not been a pretty sight.

Israel claims responsibility for nothing. Speaking with reporters recently, Israel sought to shirk blame from himself by throwing the deputy that failed to go into the school under the bus. “I gave him a gun,” he declared, “I gave him a badge. I gave him the training. If he didn’t have the heart to go in, that’s not my responsibility.”

Speaking with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Israel sounded even more wrong.

“Are you really not taking any responsibility,” Tapper asked, “for the multiple red flags that were brought to the attention of the Broward sheriff’s office about this shooter before the incident, whether it was people near him, close to him?”

With absolutely no shame, Israel responded, “I can only take responsibility for what I knew about, I exercised my due diligence, I’ve given amazing leadership to this agency.”

This, ladies and gentlemen, is not leadership.

Every moment that ticks by, Israel looks more and more culpable. Incompetence. Lack of follow through. Clearly insufficient training. Hiring political supporters for law enforcement jobs. Broward County not taking preventative measures despite receiving more than 20 calls over the years about Nikolas Cruz, who killed 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Lying and obfuscating at the CNN forum.

Folks, your government failed you. Every single layer of government — from the top at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to the bottom and the Broward County Sheriff’s Department — proved incompetent and incapable of stopping something they already had the power of stopping.

And faced with that stunning and heartbreaking failure of leadership, now we have a failure of accountability. No one seems to have the dignity and self-awareness to accept responsibility for their own role in the failure.

And yet Israel and his ilk call for, in his words, “expanding police ability,” while restricting the rights of the citizenry to arm themselves. After all, if we just give people like him more power and ourselves less, he’ll protect us. Right?


Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.