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HomeEducationSchool District, HCSO Seeking To Add K9 Program

School District, HCSO Seeking To Add K9 Program

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Two months after it was discovered that a gun had been passed around by several Hernando County students before winding up on a school bus, the district hopes to implement a unique preventative measure.

During a Hernando County School Board meeting on April 9, the board granted permission to Director of Safe Schools Brandon DeRespiris to move forward on negotiations with the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office to create a K9 program for the district.

“I think it’ll be a healthy alternative rather than putting in metal detectors in the schools,” Lieutenant Michael Bryan, who began overseeing School Resource Officers for the HCSO last week, told the board.

The program would provide the sheriff’s office with its first K9 specifically trained for gun detection. However, the plan is for the dog to be dedicated to the school system. The dog would make unannounced searches of three schools per day unless needed to investigate a potential threat. The dog would also be made available for events such as football games.

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“I would want to make it the main priority; number one, 100 percent priority to the schools,” said Bryan, who added that the dog might occasionally be used if gun detection were needed in other investigations. “The main focus of that dog would be for schools.”

DeRespiris and Bryan, along with Deputy Jason Jernigan and Corporal Steve Miller from the K9 unit, answered questions from the board concerning funding but cautioned that negotiations had not yet begun.
“I will tell you, years ago, I had dogs brought into the school searching for drugs. It was just a handshake agreement between the sheriff’s department and the school, but it worked wonders,” said Board Vice Chair Susan Duval, a former principal at Springstead High. “It was amazing. Kids didn’t know they were coming. Things changed quite a bit when they realized that these dogs would be dropping in on occasion.

“And not only inside the school but also the parking lots. It is amazing to see and it has tremendous benefits. So I’m all in favor of moving forward with the concept and let’s see what the negotiations will bring.”

Board Member Mark Johnson agreed with the concept, but he sought to cut costs by upgrading a current vehicle to be used for a K9 unit rather than purchasing a brand new one.

“I would be OK with spending up to maybe $150,000 in a ballpark to see this project go forward,” Johnson said. “But I don’t see us buying a car and getting hit for the expenses on top of that. That’s crazy. So I would like to see that taken out and put a cap on what a contract would look like coming back.”

Otherwise, there were no objections, with Board Member Shannon Rodriguez reflecting back on the February incident in which a 16-year-old student was arrested and a 17-year-old was accidentally shot.
“When the gun was at the high school, when it was there multiple days, unbeknownst to any of us and then it was on a bus; to me, anything could have happened and that could have been catastrophic,” Rodriguez said. “This is the climate, unfortunately, of what we’re having to deal with.

“I’m very fiscally responsible and I don’t say yes to things without really thinking it through. And I definitely don’t feel that when it comes to the safety of our kids, and right now with the position that we are seeing and hearing on a daily basis of so many students wanting to shoot up the school and all of the threats that we’re getting, and all of us as board members and I think county-wide across everybody is seeing this, it’s on a rise. So I think this is definitely something that would be worthwhile.”

Chris Bernhardt
Chris Bernhardt
A resident of Spring Hill since 1986, Chris graduated from Springstead High in 1999 before moving on to earn a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Central Florida. In summer of 2003 he joined the staff at Hernando Today, working at the paper for 11 years as a sports reporter, the last three as sports coordinator in charge of the paper’s sports coverage. After an initial 3-year stint with Hernando Sun, he spent four years as a staff sports reporter at the Citrus County Chronicle. Follow on X @cpbernhardtjr.
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