Reluctantly going back on its decision to arm only sworn law enforcement officers with weapons, the Broward County School Board unanimously approved hiring armed, non-sworn guards to protect schools and to comply with a new state law.
Board members’ votes at Tuesday’s meeting came with two caveats: That the role of the “armed safe school officer,” now officially created, perform no other duties except fend off active threats, and to prefer that candidates have four years of law enforcement or military experience in the past 10 years.
Board member Robin Bartleman, who suggested the former revision and backed the latter on preferring law enforcement experience, blamed the Legislature for putting boards in a predicament that doesn’t allow enough time and funding to hire sworn school resource officers to staff schools.
“Honestly, it’s like putting Paul Blart the mall cop in a school with a gun,” she said. “I’d like to thank this board and staff for making it palatable.”
Board member Rosalind Osgood was particularly concerned with whether the guardians’ weapons would be concealed. Superintendent Robert Runcie said no final decision on that was made but would be worked out as the program is implemented.
The board’s blessing gives the district the green light to start advertising to hire about 80 armed guards to be placed mostly in elementary schools. The district is also working on renewing its agreements with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and 16 municipal police departments, which footed much of the bill for staffing 166 school resource officers in mostly middle and high schools last school year, and expects to hire more school resource officers by the start of school Aug. 15. There are 234 traditional public schools in the district.
But in case not enough guards are hired in time — or agreements fall through — the district is also looking at contingency plans. Those could include re-purposing 18 certified law enforcement officers already hired by the district or paying cops overtime pay.
“We’re going to find ways to make it happen,” Runcie told reporters during a break in the meeting.
Board members did not discuss how any of the 93 charter schools in the district plan to arm their schools. They will receive $1.4 million in additional Safe Schools funding to comply with the same legislative mandate.