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Palm Coast Thursday, Mar. 8, 2018 8 months ago

School district, Sheriff's Office hope to increase number of school deputies from six to 13

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The district will not arm teachers and school staff.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Local officials hope to more than double the number of school resource deputies in Flagler County's public schools, increasing their number from six to 13. They will not arm teachers and school staff to stop a potential school shooter.

"I feel the only folks that should be protecting our students are deputy sheriffs or fully trained police officers," Flagler Schools Superintendent James Tager said March 8 in a joint press conference with Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly in the resource center at Buddy Taylor Middle School.

Although Tager has no interest in the "guardian" aspect of the school safety legislation passed at the state level, he thanked Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers for making school safety a priority in the aftermath of the shooting in Parkland.

The school district tried to undertake projects to increase school security years ago, he said, but voters in 2013 rejected a referendum to raise property taxes to increase the district's budget. The district will need state money, he said, to pay to add the additional deputies.

In the meantime, the district will have every teacher and student participate in active shooter scenario training through the Flagler County Sheriff's Office. The training will be tailored to be age-appropriate for middle and elementary school students, while high school students will receive full active shooter training. 

The district also hopes to have a school psychologist in every school. Right now, it's close: The district has eight school psychologists and nine public schools.

School hardening

After the Sandy Hook shooting, Tager said, the district "made as many updates as fiscally available to protect our students," requiring teachers and staff to lock doors during the school day, conducting drills and retrofitting most campuses with single-entry points with automatic locking doors.

"I can tell you that they checked my license when I walked in the door today," he said. "I'm not sure if I've gotten it back yet, but they took it."

The district also has surveillance camera systems in its schools.

The Sheriff's Office, Staly said, will help assess weaknesses in school security.

"Superintendent Tager, our staffs and myself have been talking and meeting about school safety since before and certainly since the tragic shooting in Broward County," Staly said.

Staff from the Flagler County Sheriff's Office's homeland security section will be conducting unannounced vulnerability assessments at each school, he said.

A solution to one structural security problem is already in progress. The Sheriff's Office's radios, as well as those worn by other first responders, don't work inside school buildings. When Bunnell Elementary School was placed on lockdown March 7 after a 13-year-old allegedly threatened a student with a weapon, a Bunnell Police Department officer who was already on the campus couldn't be reached on his radio, Staly said. 

The county plans to switch over to a new system to fix the problem, but that solution is two or three years out. 

School district staff and School Board members are also considering various structural upgrades, Tager said. The district can't yet disclose all of them, but some include improved fencing and improved door and window locks, and protective film.

Stopping a shooting

Staly, like Tager, doesn't want to arm the district's teachers and school staff. Residents have the right to keep firearms to protect their own lives, he said, but arming people to protect someone else is "a different matter," requiring extensive training and psychological testing. And, he added, teachers and school staff might know a potential shooter personally and hesitate to kill them. Shooting to wound, he said, is TV stuff — not realistic. 

"Taking a life or running toward an incident is a very difficult choice to make," he said. Law enforcement officers, he said, are trained to do that. "My deputies have made that choice," he said. Sheriff's Office deputies are also trained on AR-15s, he said.

Before the Columbine school shooting, he said, standard procedure for law enforcement officers in such a situation was to contain the situation and wait for a SWAT team. Columbine changed that thinking.

Staly has directed deputies to respond immediately to any potential school shooter. 

"I would expect my resource deputies to immediately engage … that person and stop the threat," he said. "We train for the worst, we pray we never need it. ... We will kill any active shooter or attacker anywhere in this county."

Staly said he could support deputizing former law enforcement officers and veterans to perform school perimeter security checks under the supervision of a deputy, but only with extensive backgrounds checks, legal and firearms training, and the support of the School Board. In the meantime, he's directed Citizen Observer Patrol members and Sheriff's Office deputies to perform extra patrols around the schools.

He's also implemented a zero tolerance policy for school threats and ordered that a detective be assigned to each of them. "You don’t make those comments ... just because you’re angry or upset," he said. The agency has responded to 21 threats on school campuses since Feb. 15. One case has led to an arrest, and others are under investigation.

Having more deputies on campuses, Staly said, will help build bridges between students and law enforcement officers.

But, "It is not just a law enforcement and School District solution. Parents must be involved," he said. "As sheriff, I am the chief law enforcement officer of the county. But parents should be the chief law enforcement officer of their home and with their children. It is time that parents be parents again, and not just friends to their children. ... Get involved in your child’s life before it’s too late."

 

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