OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson says he knows that protecting children in schools is of the utmost importance, but he also knows that it comes at a steep cost.
During a presentation at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, Gibson said adding new school resource officers to be in compliance with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which passed after a mass shooting at a Parkland high school, will mean that other items in the Sheriff Office's budget will have to be eliminated.
"The cost for school safety has more than doubled due to, again, the mandates set down from the state recommendations. We're doing everything that we possibly can to make sure that we fall in line with the mandates; the recommendations and making sure that our children; our educators are protected," Gibson said.
Those eliminated items include body cameras, adding 42 sworn deputies, operation equipment, 25 patrol vehicles, radios, maintenance and more that total more than $4 million.
"Body cameras was something that I was really having on the agenda and it was something that was really going to be great for our citizens and also a great tool for our law enforcement to have," Gibson said, noting that the department had already picked a company for the $459,312 purchase.
Gibson said that even before the act passed, the department had a long-term plan to make sure every school was protected by adding three SROs each year.
For the 2016-2017 academic year, there were 23 SROs and one sergeant who covered 31 schools, meaning only 17 schools had their own SROs and the other 14 shared. That number increased to 24 SROs and two sergeants the following academic year.
By the start of the 2018-2019 school year, there will be 46 SROs and five sergeants for 47 schools.
Gibson said the investment and adding the extra positions will be worth it to make sure children and educators are safe.
"They're worth every dollar that we can invest into their safety, into their education. It's just that important," Gibson said.
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