Orange County mayor, sheriff square off over school resource officers

Mayor says sheriff wasn't transparent; sheriff doesn't want to play politics

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The back and forth between Orange County's mayor and sheriff came to a head Wednesday after both leaders held news conferences about school resource officer placement. 

Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Sheriff Jerry Demings are both running for office this year. Jacobs is running for Orange County School Board chairman and Demings is running for Orange County mayor.

They said they don't want to mix politics and school safety, but that came to a head after concerns were raised regarding school resource officers.

In March, Gov. Rick Scott signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act into law following the Parkland shooting. It requires the presence of at least one SRO at every public school campus during school hours.

Demings and Jacobs said their offices have been working with Orange County Public Schools on how to fulfill this new mandate. 

According to a May memo Demings sent to Jacobs, he told the mayor the Sheriff's Office would need to hire 75 deputies for the 2019-2020 school year. The sheriff said they couldn't hire and train that many deputies in time for the school year. 

For this school year, Demings said they would use 66 deputies working overtime hours to cover school security and the school district would cover the costs.

"Our schools are safe and we have a workable plan going forward," Demings said.

Jacobs said that was the plan as she understood it until she read an Orlando Sentinel article on Aug. 10, just days before the start of the new school year. The article claimed the Sheriff's Office couldn't fill a full-time deputy in all 116 schools in unincorporated Orange County. 

"As far as we could tell, every other agency within the region was providing a full time deputy for each of our schools while they were in session. That was not the level of coverage that the sheriff was prepared to provide," Jacobs said.

Jacobs said funding for the new SROs was never an issue, but she said Demings never provided the county a budget.

Demings said he couldn't provide the county cost until the Sheriff's Office came to an agreement with the school district, which they finalized on Wednesday.

Jacobs said it is unacceptable to not have a deputy in every school.

"I think the mandate was clear. I think it's overdue," she said.

While Demings said all schools are safe and they have a plan.

"The implication that we would somehow compromise the safety of students really is insulting," he said.

Demings would not say how long SROs will be on school campuses because they don't want to compromise student safety.

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