Balancing act: Sheriffs, short on funding, met school safety requirements

Funding 'not nearly enough' to handle new security mandates

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – This school year, new state mandates to add more school resource officers and other safety measures in all of Florida schools have left many law enforcement agencies concerned about staffing because of a lack of state funding.

The increased safety requirements established under the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act came down after the tragedy at Parkland High School back in February. 

Sheriff's offices in Central Florida and all over the state are struggling to balance students' safety as a top priority, while trying not to leave other section of their department dry.

"While the legislator needs to be applauded for putting this bill together as quickly as possible, the funding just isn’t there," Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said.

In Volusia County, school resource officers and trained school guardians will be on campuses to help address the need for these new safety changes.

In Orange County, the Sheriff's Office told News 6 it is still seeking funding to eventually hire 75 full-time school resource officers.

"It was not nearly enough to handle the mandates and recommendations that they sent down," Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson said of the funding to add more school resources officers.

The state funding to put officers in all schools didn’t cut it, Gibson said.

"It put a strain on us, and we met that head on and wanted to make sure our most precious resources were our children (and) are protected at all cost," Gibson said.  

Gibson said he’s had to hire retired deputies and move deputies around within his department to meet the state’s new school safety mandates. He said he even had to ask the county commission and the school board to chip in. 

[RELATED STORY: 'To avoid another Parkland,' Central Florida schools finalizing security plans]

The sheriff said even though every school had a resource officer for the start of the school year, his department still has openings to hire six full time SROs and more patrol deputies. 

"We will do anything humanely possible to make sure our children are protected in Osceola County," Gibson said. 

He also said he’s been forced to cut things in his budget like the start of the body camera program and the mobile command unit.

"It’s nothing that we’re going to forget about but it’s going to have to take the back burner," said Gibson.

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