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Board to consider putting sheriff’s office deputies back in schools

Posted 12/31/69

The Clay County School Board will decide next week if it will enter into negotiations to put the District’s Police Department under the direction of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office for the next …

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Board to consider putting sheriff’s office deputies back in schools


Posted

The Clay County School Board will decide next week if it will enter into negotiations to put the District’s Police Department under the direction of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office for the next three years.

Sheriff Michelle Cook detailed the costs for her agency to provide legally required protection at all but five of the schools in the county. The Town of Orange Park and the City of Green Cove Springs provide school resource officers at their schools.

The decision to fold the district’s police department into CCSO comes after the school district broke away from the sheriff’s office in 2019, citing costs.

Now, the board is considering moving its police department, which includes a $4.8 million budget, back under the auspices of the sheriff’s office. It will decide at its Nov. 2 meeting if it wants to advance the project.

“We need to be looking at cutting programs anyway,” said board member Michele Hanson. “There (are) a lot of hard decisions to be made in the next three years. For me, making a decision on the security of our kids is not as tough as making a decision about something else. Safety decisions are easier. They’re easy for the public to understand.”

Cook said the district asked for costs and ideas in July. She said she couldn’t provide them with details until the Board of County Commissioners approved her budget last month.

She said her agency would need a one-time $1.7 million transition payment to switch equipment.

“We went back and forth several times with questions and then followed up,” Cook said. “So when it came to actual numbers, we had to wait for the CCC to approve our budget, which included a compensation plan so that we could provide the best estimate numbers, how much a transition would cost and what ongoing costs would look like.”

Cook said, if approved, school officers would simply change uniforms and maintain their basic duties. She dispelled the idea that SROs would be asked to go on patrol when they aren’t protecting students, faculty and staff.

“Operationally, it would make no sense (to move them),” Cook said. “It would be my intent to hire as many people as possible and keep them in their same positions.”

School officers also would get pay raises and get credit for their service. The sheriff’s office also would hire a director who would answer to the undersheriff.

However, she said, unlike the current policy where school officers are restricted to be within 1,000 feet of the campus, sheriff’s office deputies may answer an emergency close to a school to make sure there aren’t any life-challenging injuries or threats.

“If you’re made aware of an issue nearby, there is an obligation to go check it out and make sure that there’s no immediate life safety issues,” she said. “But as you’re doing that, what happens is the deputy will key in on the radio and say, ‘I’m so and so, and I’m at this location. I’ve been told of an accident along the way.’”

The school board will meet at 6 p.m. at the Teacher Training Center at Fleming Island High.