'Help 15 seconds away:' 2nd college joins Polk sheriff's program to deputize staff

Webber International University signs contract with sheriff's office

By Daniel Dahm - Digital Manager, Emilee Speck - Digital journalist
© LAKANA

BABSON PARK, Fla. - Some teachers and staff members at a Central Florida college will soon carry guns in an effort to stem the threat of an active shooter on campus.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and Webber International University President Dr. Keith Wade signed a contract Thursday to formally begin the Sentinel Program, which Grady is offering to all schools and universities in the county in an effort to stem potential shootings.

The Polk County university is in Babson Park, between Lake Wales and Frostproof.

The move comes eight days after 17 people were shot and killed at a South Florida high school on Valentine's Day.

Southeastern University, in Lakeland, has already completed training as part of the Sentinel Program. The college has eight professors and staff members who are special deputies with the Polk County Sheriff's Office. Tampa CBS affiliate WTSP reports they've gone through dozens of hours of training and a psychological exam.

Judd said that more school leaders have expressed interest since the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida.

"I said 'I'm done with it, never again,'" Judd said he told Sheriff's Office employees during a 2016 meeting after another shooting.

Sheriff's officials said the measure is a "unique program that will provide comprehensive and professional law enforcement training to select university faculty and staff members that will enable them to carry a concealed firearm for the purpose of rapidly responding to an active assailant on campus to stop a potential deadly threat."

"To be clear, we're not handing out guns," Wade said of the program, adding that he prays "it's a waste of time and money."

Volunteer participants will go through a background and mental health screening process and receive training that Judd said exceeds what becoming a traditional sheriff's deputy requires. After completing their training, volunteers will become special deputies on campus.

"If it happens," Wade said referring to a potential shooting. "I’ve got help 15 seconds away, not 15 minutes away."

The sheriff said the Sentinel Program was not something he wanted to do, but it's a last stitch effort to save lives.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we can debate gun control all day long, but I’m not going to do that today," Judd said, later adding, "Gun control is clearly in place in the state of Florida. How did that work last week in Broward County?"

If a gunman were to ever come onto Weber or any other campus with deputized staff, Judd said, "We are going to engage him and shoot at him, a lot."

The cost of the program has not been released.

Key components of the Polk County sheriff's Sentinel Program are:

  • Faculty and staff are selected by the university for the program and screened by PCSO staff, including criminal background checks, drug testing, and a psychological evaluation.
  • Sheriff's Sentinels will be appointed by the sheriff as volunteer "Special Deputies" for the limited purpose of providing security on Webber International University's campus during an active assailant incident, defined as: "a situation in which an armed assailant is posing an immediate deadly threat to people on the premises of the University." 
  • Why Special Deputies? To take advantage of PCSO professional training and to provide a legal mechanism for staff and faculty to carry a concealed firearm on campus. (Florida State Statutes, Chapter 30)
  • The Special Deputy Sheriffs shall have no authority to act in any law enforcement capacity outside of a deadly threat active assailant incident on campus and shall have no authority in a law enforcement capacity off campus in any way. 
  • Special Deputy Sheriffs in the Sheriff's Sentinel Program are authorized to carry concealed, approved firearms on campus. The firearms will be specifically purchased and issued for the sole purpose of the Sheriff's Sentinel Program. Only PCSO-approved concealed carry safety holsters and firearms will be used in the program.
  • Special Deputy Sheriffs in the Sheriff's Sentinel Program will be required to successfully complete training with the Polk County Sheriff's Office Training Section prior to his or her appointment, which will consist of 100 hours of comprehensive firearm safety and proficiency training.  
  • Special Deputy Sheriff Sentinel Program Training: (132 total hours)
  • Firearms: 80-hour block of instruction. This firearms training is based on the CJSTC law enforcement academy training model. A typical academy student will fire approximately 1,000 training rounds during the academy. The Sentinel Program Training will include 10-20 percent more rounds fired for each participant. 
  • Firearms: Precision Pistol / 16-hour block of instruction.
  • Firearms Discretionary Shooting: 4-hour block of instruction using state of the art simulator exercises.
  • Active Shooter/Assailant: 8 hour block of instruction.
  • Defensive Tactics: 4 hour block of instruction.
  • Legal / High Liability: 20-hour block of instruction.
  • All training will be conducted by CJSTC-certified instructors.
  • Ongoing and annual proficiency retraining will be conducted by the PCSO.
  • Higher Standards: The 100 hour block of firearms instruction is 25 percent more instruction than the equivalent block of CJSTC law enforcement firearms instruction deputies receive (80 hours). Additionally, Sentinel Program participants will be required to pass the firearms training at an 85% pass rate compared to the CJSTC standard of an 80 percent pass rate. The 16-hour precision pistol course is additional training (not required for deputy sheriffs). The 4-hour block discretionary shooting instruction is a separate training for the Sentinel Program (incorporated into the 80 hour block of instruction). Sentinels will receive 8 hours of active shooter/assailant training (deputies receive 6 hours training).
  • Participation in the Sheriff's Sentinel Program may be denied or terminated by the Polk County Sheriff's Office for any reason, including: 
  • Any arrest or filing of criminal charges against the participant by a law enforcement agency;
  • Having been served as the respondent of an injunction for protection;
  • Having been involuntarily placed in a treatment facility for a mental health examination under the Baker Act;
  • A serious violation of PCSO General Orders;
  • A serious violation of the University Employee Handbook/Policy.

Additional Details 

  • Documentation will be maintained of the following aspects of the program: weapon and equipment inspections, participants' training, certification, inspection and qualification records. 
  • Sentinel participants will be required to be clearly visually identified (for the benefit of responding law enforcement officers, faculty, staff, and students) in the case of any active assailant incident.
  • Sentinel Program awareness training will be conducted for all WIU staff members.
  • Each Sentinel will be required to execute a volunteer agreement with the Polk County Sheriff's Office outlining duties and responsibilities.

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