County and School District approve funding for additional SROs

On Feb. 27, the BOCC approved funding for the immediate addition of 10 School Resource Officers, a SRO Sergeant, a floating SRO and a SRO Training Officer through September 30, 2018 (Remaining amount of the County's Fiscal Year). They gave approval contingent on the school district funding 50% of the $887,107 expense, which was approved unanimously by the School Board during a packed regular meeting later that day.

On the county's side funding will come from the County's General Fund Reserves and the school district will be invoiced $443,553.50, which will be returned to the reserves.

Conversation during the Board of County Commissioners meeting ran the gamut, including the harm of gun free zones, the need for building school infrastructure in a secure way, armed and trained citizenry present in schools, instating auxiliary officers, safety funding challenges for the school district, the potential for state SRO funding, high number of Baker Acts barely three months into 2018 as well as an update on the action plan upon approval of the additional SROs. Throughout discussion there was little doubt the BOCC would approve the expense, although questions arose if they would be penalized by the state for having a program in place prior to the state requiring a SRO in every school causing them not to receive the state funding associated with that requirement.

Choice remarks came from Commissioner Holcomb who called school campuses “murder zones” since guns are banned from the premises as law abiding citizens cannot carry concealed weapons in the gun free zones. “As far as school situations go, we need to get rid of our pre-9/11 mentality,” he stated. He views the additional SROs as a step in the right direction and he’s confident the SRO failure in South Florida wouldn’t happen here.

Commissioner Nicholson agreed that they need to get rid of gun free zones for schools. He said that someone who has a concealed weapon permit should be able to carry a gun on a school campus.

Holcomb is in favor of constructing schools for security as in Israel and creating vetted groups of individuals with law enforcement or military training to protect schools- like TSA for airports.

Dr. Romano commented, “I don’t want our parents dropping off their child everyday and wondering if they’re going to see their child again. I don’t want that.”

“We can do many things on the proactive end,” she continued, “We are reviewing safety plans, we’re putting training into place, we’re looking at every child with multiple risk factors.”

Commissioner Allocco stressed that training the students to react properly is key. “We need to not think about it as an inconvenience when we train our children on how to be prepared for different situations.” He commented that killers prey on the lack of training the students have in these situations.

He asserted that there needs to be individual accountability on the state and federal levels of government. He said that the reason Parkland, Las Vegas and Connecticut happened was “people on the state and federal level not doing their jobs and being held to a different standard than those in the private industry.” “And I’m tired of it,” he added. Allocco emphasized that we need to throw out entanglements that don’t allow the police to do their job.

The Parkland incident had entanglements on many levels. One entanglement that involves local and state levels, is an agreement called the Promise Program - between the County, Sheriff’s Office, School District, municipalities within Broward County, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Office of the State Attorney which outlined how law enforcement would respond to student scrapes with the law. It deals mostly with misdemeanors occuring in public schools, giving law enforcement the discretion whether to arrest a student or not in order to reduce in-school arrests. Broward County had the highest number of school related arrests in the State of Florida in 2011-2012, spurring them to institute the program in 2013 according to their collaborative agreement on school discipline. It also explains that the use of arrests may decrease a student’s chance at graduation, entering higher education, joining the military and getting a job. It additionally cites that "students of color, disablilties and LGBTQ students are disproportionately impacted by school-based arrests for the same behavior as their peers". However, it’s easy to see how decreasing the threshold for arrests could create an unsafe situation.

There was some discussion during the Feb. 27 meeting about Governor Scott pushing for an SRO requirement for every school in a district based on 1 SRO per 1000 students and state funds would be allocated to relieve financial pressure. However questions arose about whether the county would get the funding if they already had met the SRO requirements. Sheriff Nienhuis assured the Board when he came to the podium, stating that he had just made a quick phone call to the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff who stated that we would not be penalized for acting early. “He’s never lied to me before,” said Nienhuis.

Dr. Romano expressed concern for the school district’s Safe School Allocation which is based on the crime index for the county. “It’s minimal ($400,000-$500,000)... We know what we need to do, in terms of training… infrastructure, partnering with law enforcement - it’s our funding - the safe schools allocation is basically half of what we need because it’s based on the crime index. However the behaviors, safety and security issues we see with our children - they’re substantial. We have over 200 baker acts with the Sheriff’s Department just this year. When something occurs in the school, they go out to the homes to investigate… imagine the resources it takes to provide just this year 200.” Yet there is some hope because Scott has outlined an increase in the Safe School allocation for each school district in his proposed school safety plan.

Expounding on the number of Baker Acts since the beginning of 2018, Sheriff Nienhuis said that 99% of the Baker Acts have been self harm related. “What my SROs do is that any juvenile that is Baker Acted whether it’s inside or outside of school, they have a protocol they go through. They visit the house and talk with the parents or the guardians as well as the student to make sure that they have seen somebody, that they’re getting help, do they feel like they’re in crisis now… We prefer to prevent one of these things than have to deal with it,” Nienhuis said.

Sheriff Nienhuis commented that having a SRO in every school will give him the opportunity to expand the Auxiliary Deputy Program. Teachers, administrators or “John Q. Citizen” go through the required training and they are given the authority to make arrests as long as they have a fully certified deputy with them.

HCSO Captain Harold Hutchinson Jr., who is in charge of the School Resource Officer Unit has chosen the 10 additional SROs and the additional Sergeant, Sgt. D. Deso who is an active shooter trainer and member of the HCSO SWAT team. The new SROs will begin on Thursday. Over the summer, they will go through SRO training. Methods of long term funding and the proportion of funding by the school and county for the additional SROs is still up in the air and will be discussed in future meetings.

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