GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Clay County students welcomed the school district police department into their schools with open arms and those key relationships between officers and students already have …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Clay County students welcomed the school district police department into their schools with open arms and those key relationships between officers and students already have begun to grow.
Some parents were trepidatious when the school district ended its contract with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and created its own police department since it would end bonds between school resource officers and students that have been years in the making.
New bonds have been created in their place though, according to the school district’s chief of police, Kenneth Wagner.
“So far, it’s been really great,” Wagner said. “We’ve already started building those partnerships with our students. We’re becoming mentors – we encourage people to look at our Facebook page because you can see it – and we’ve been actively engaged in every aspect of school to ensure the transition from the sheriff’s office to us goes well.”
The department’s Facebook page shows a department that's received notes of encouragement and appreciation from students, moments of “paying it forward” at drive-thrus and engagement at school sporting events. When CCSO was in schools, they received the same type of love from the county which goes to show that it’s not about the uniform an SRO is wearing or even their badge – it’s about the people in those uniforms, the people behind those badges.
“We’re all here to do the same thing: protect these kids and make school a safe place,” Wagner said.
Clay High’s resident SRO, Chip Putman, worked for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for 28 years before retiring. Two years later, he was back in a uniform.
“It’s what I do,” Putman said. “You can try to deny it, but there is no denying it really.”
Putman said everyone at the school has not only been very receptive, but extremely nice. He’s thankful for that – and the slower-pace compared to JSO.
“JSO is kind of hair-on-fire all the time but it’s different here,” Putman said. “This school is filled with great people and it’s nice to get the time to have a real conversation with people instead of just documenting and reporting, putting that person in jail and leaving.”
The police officers monitoring the schools today were sworn in on Aug. 1, and they’ve been monitoring halls for more than three weeks since school started. Despite being prepared for the job, Wagner is proud of the continued training at the department, saying there’s no such thing as too much training.
As of Sept. 3, the department hasn’t been forced to arrest a student or faculty member. They did, however, arrested a wanted man who was caught on school property.
“There was a warrant for his arrest,” Wagner said.
There have been a few threats to school safety here and there, Wagner said, but nothing truly credible, which have made Wagner and Putman thankful. Both said the department is dedicated to reviewing every threat as if it were credible and real.
The school police also have helped partners like the sheriff’s office. At least 17 school officers helped locate Cedric Barnes two weeks ago after he was reported missing while walking home from Argyle Elementary. He was eventually found safe to end a brief Amber Alert.
Their primary function is to protect district schools, but if a crime navigates off school property, offers are allowed to assist. Every officer is instructed under Florida statute to maintain a “performance of duty,” which allows them to respond if they witness a violent crime.
Other than that, the district police have a 1000-feet perimeter around every school that falls within their jurisdiction, Wagner said.
“This (school district) is our priority,” Wagner said. “We will keep it safe.”