Florida sheriffs: More education funding needed to protect students

Orlando police chief, Brevard, Polk sheriffs offer possible solutions

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

Orlando Police Chief John Mina, center, at a law enforcement workshop on Feb. 20, 2018 less than a week after 17 people were killed in a high school shooting.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The agreement among Florida’s top law enforcement leaders was clear Tuesday in Tallahassee: They want school resources officers in every single school and to do that lawmakers need to provide the education budget to do it.

Less than a week after 17 students and teachers were fatally shot and more than 16 others were injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Gov. Rick Scott called law enforcement, education and mental health leaders to the Florida capital to find a way to prevent more students from dying.

Representatives of the Florida Sheriffs Association and other Florida law enforcement officials spoke about the issues they face trying to protect school campuses and preventing firearms from ending up in the wrong hands.

WATCH LIVE: Florida law enforcement  policy workshop in Tallahassee

Sheriffs call for education funding: 'Put our money where our mouth is'

One by one county sheriffs and police chiefs echoed similar sentiments about needing deputies and police in every Florida school. School resource officers are funded by the state education budget.

The School District of Palm Beach County has its own dedicated police department comprised of 100 officers, created through a special legislative act by the school board.

School District of Palm Beach County Police Department Chief Lawrence J. Leon attended Tuesday’s workshop and slammed Florida lawmakers for cutting the education budget.

“My budget is based on what comes from the state to school districts,” Leon said. “Extreme reductions in those kinds of monies in school districts is a detriment.”

Leon said the last reduction of about 5 percent was $400,000 his district needed for police cars and staff.

Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley said in his county, which has a population of about 200,000, there is a school resource officer in every school, including schools of choice and private schools. The funding for those officers comes from the state education budget.

Ashley said the Florida Panhandle county has $600,000 in “safe school dollars” to keep 22,000 people safe across the school system.

Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey called for the necessary state funding to put an officer in every school.

Ivey said sheriffs shouldn’t have to choose between about protecting schools or the rest of the community.

“We’ve been talking about options for a long time,” Ivey said. “I think it’s time to stop talking and put our money where our mouth is.”

Orlando police Chief John Mina was also in attendance at the workshop. He explained that in Orlando, the OPD has two school resource officers in every high school, one in every middle school, and one deputy covers three or four elementary schools.

News 6 requested the school safety budgets from all Central Florida school districts.

Marion County Public Schools allocates $1.4 million this year for school security.  This includes costs for full-time school resource officers at 17 middle and high schools and three district-level school safety employees.

The Orange County Public Schools current operating budget includes $13,536,333 for school security, which includes school resource officers, district police, security guards and safe coordinators.

The 2017-2018 school security budget for Osceola County is $1,740,000 that covers SROs, security cameras and software, visitor check-in systems, fencing and other safety applications.

Seminole County School District officials say the 2017-2018 safety-related budget is more than $8 million. That covers SROs, security needs, security enhancements, monitoring, alarm systems and fencing.

Volusia County Schools officials say the current school security budget is $3.63 million, which includes funding for 26 school resources officers (13 deputies and 13 police officers) and 75 campus advisors. More than $1.6 million of the funding comes from the state, the remainder is paid for by local revenue.

Brevard, Lake and Flagler school districts have not yet responded to the information request. This story will be updated when News 6 receives the district budget information.

Officers ‘powerless’ to take guns from individuals held under Baker Act

Several Florida law enforcement leaders called for legislation that they said would help them prevent individuals from obtaining firearms after they are taken in for a mental health examination under the Baker Act and give officers the power to take them away.

“The public doesn’t know this, but when we Baker Act somebody law enforcement is powerless to take guns or remove firearms from that person’s custody,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.

Gualtieri added that in Florida people who are examined under the Baker Act can go out the next day and buy a gun.

One day after the Parkland shooting, Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., reminded her fellow congress members of House Bill 2598, the Gun Violence Restraining Order Act. The federal legislation introduced in 2017 "would allow family members or law enforcement officials to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from an individual in crisis."

A spokesperson for Demings said the Parkland shooting was "an unfortunate reminder that the GOP-controlled Congress has refused to move the bill forward."

Mina said the “Gun Violence Restraining Order was the way to go.” He said five states currently have similar laws in place and 13 others are considering it.

"By law we have to give that person their gun back if we end up seizing that gun and when that person goes to purchase a firearm there is no way of knowing that person was just committed under Baker Act," Mina said.

Law enforcement training, arming Florida’s teachers

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd was very vocal about a pilot-program, known as the Sentinel Program, that offers law enforcement training for teachers and school officials.

Under the program, Polk County School District employees can elect to receive training that “exceeded the training of law enforcement officers,” Grady said.

Grady said the goal is “to have more resources than they have,” referring to a possible active shooter.

“When the active shooter alarm goes off, ideally we will intercept that person,” Grady said.
Several of the leaders in the workshop seemed receptive to trying a similar program.

Last week, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood endorsed the idea during a news conference after the county received more than 15 false threats to area schools following the Parkland shooting.

"The day of waiting for Tallahassee or Washington, D.C. to protect our kids is not coming," Chitwood said. "It's not stopping."

Grady ended the first half of the law enforcement workshop with a call to action.

“We gather our children up and we send them off to school where there is nobody to protect them with a gun,” Grady said. “Come on, man. What are we doing? We got to make a difference.”

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