POLK COUNTY, Fla. – Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd didn't hesitate to implement changes after tragedy struck a South Florida school.
"When seconds count, minutes do no good," Judd said.
When the Florida Legislature passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Act in March, requiring all schools in Florida to have at least one school resource officer or armed school guardian, Judd, in collaboration with the Polk County Schools superintendent, moved quickly to choose and implement the latter.
"The guardian is better trained," Judd said. "The guardian receives 25% more firearms training than a certified police officer in the state of Florida and has to qualify five points higher than a certified police officer."
Monday morning, Judd invited cameras to the Polk County Sheriff's Office Training Center and Firing Range, where prospective guardians are getting training, to see the training and trainees in action.
Around 150 civilians - some young, some old, some new to law enforcement, some former military - are undergoing 144 hours of intensive tactical training, including gun safety, gun handling, shoot/no-shoot scenario training, simulation training, live-fire training and classroom training.
They will not be school resource officers; they will not be disciplinarians.
"These individuals will be responsible for working with the district’s Safe Schools division to provide security to our campuses, conduct necessary drills, oversee crime prevention initiatives and programs with students, conduct surveillance and other security-related tasks," a Polk County Sheriff's Office spokesman said.
The instructors are the same ones who train deputies and the SWAT team.
Judd said more than 500 people applied to the school district to become school guardians, but only 150 passed background checks, psychological screenings and drugs tests and were selected to begin training.
Roberto Salgado, a trainee, is 61 years old.
"I'm still in good shape, good health, and this is something I love to do and want to do it more," Salgado said. "My background is military, law enforcement, corrections, overseas security, private security."
Judd said seven people have already quit.
"I'm excited because we have great people, and they will show the highest proficiency, or I won't make them a guardian," Judd said.
Judd said the first class of guardians will graduate in July. He expects to have 91 of them trained and ready to be deployed to every single Polk County school in August.
"When we get the 911 call (that) there's an active shooter on campus, the destruction is already underway, that's why you have to have school guardians on the campus," Judd said. "The only place in Florida where we gather our children, our most precious resource, in one great group, where it is illegal for there to a be a firearm. How crazy is that?"
Those interested in applying can do so online, a Polk County Sheriff's Office spokesperson said. The job description will soon be posted on the district’s website and will include the qualifications.
This new employee position will be certified through the Polk County Sheriff’s Office guardian program, which will allow School Safety guardians to carry a firearm on campuses. They will have no authority to arrests and will not be considered law enforcement.
Each of these designated individuals must undergo a background check, drug test, psychological exam and 144 hours of specialized training.
The starting salary for the School Safety Guardian position is $30,000 a year, plus benefits. New allocations of state Safe Schools funding will cover most of the employment costs.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office will cover the costs of guardian training, supplies and equipment.