According to the U.S. Secret Service, the best way to reduce school violence is to eliminate bullying, address mental health needs and foster high-quality relationships between staff and students so threats are detected and reported.
The tragic Marjory Stoneman Douglass school shooting incident in 2018, where 17 students lost their lives, prompted the Florida legislature to mandate that the county’s school district SHALL act as the agency responsible for guaranteeing the safety of our school children. They also allowed us to pay for most of this mandate, and you voted to provide an additional $13 million in funding to pay for a police presence in every school, along with $4.8 million to harden facilities against hostile intrusions, $7 million to implement a more robust mental health program and increase and enhance incident reporting and oversight and $1.2 million to our charter schools.
Former Sheriff Daryl Daniels came up with a price that was 60% higher for each deputy than either the Orange Park or Green Cove Springs Police departments. After months of negotiations, the Sheriff held to his original number, and the Clay County School Board, faced with the start of a new school year, determined it could save more than $1 million a year by providing the School Resource Officers with its own agency.
Control of the school policing segment of the program needs to remain with those responsible for the overall program. The school policing authority should enforce the policies of the local school district and the criminal law system while remembering our kids are still children. Mission 1 of a School Resource Officer is to keep kids safe. If a robbery occurs across the street, an officer reporting to the school system won’t be pulled from campus to respond. The value of our children growing up learning that “officer friendly” is just that, and not someone to fear, cannot be overstated. Effective School Resource Officers are central mentors and can identify children in school and during after-school activities who need additional support. During the two months of summer vacation, officers supervise projects hardening schools and receive special training, which in my day, was considered ‘childish behavior’ instead of directing traffic.
Our School Board will soon vote on a proposal to move control of School Resource Officers back to the Sheriff’s Office. Will it benefit our children? In the event of a severe safety issue, the resource officer will call for the same backup on the same radio system, no matter who they work for. Will it save money? No numbers have been released as of this writing. Hopefully, we will find the Sheriff’s Office has gotten a bit more efficient under its new management. Will a term-limited Sheriff with varying fiscal and community pressures each election cycle be in a better position to direct resource officer’s efforts than the local school district and Superintendent, who are ultimately responsible for their success, or will this add just another layer of management with no value added for anyone?
I was initially against a school district police department. Times change. I can see a much greater role for these dedicated people than being the school cop. We have a chance to innovate and grow here. This issue is a lot bigger than providing the first and hopefully last target for a would-be shooter. We need better tools to identify and help troubled kids in ways already overworked teachers cannot. Reporting to the school board, our resource officer is in the best position to fill this expanded role. If it’s not broken …
Wayne Bolla served on the Clay County School Board from 2004 to 2008 and the Clay County Board of County Commissioners from 2014 to 2022.