Instead of getting to know new students after winter break, every elementary school in Alachua County had to get to know their new deputy. After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last month, schools across America started exploring new ways to keep their students safe.
One way, said Lt. Todd Kelly of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, is to redirect police units to make sure schools are in good hands.
Before, the county had a traffic unit and a cops unit, which is a community-oriented policing unit. Both units have now been temporarily dismantled and reassigned to elementary schools throughout Alachua County.
“Instead of reporting to a shift where they go out and enforce traffic laws, we’ve done a shift in priorities and put them in schools until we can work out a permanent resolution,” Kelly said.
One deputy is assigned to each elementary school in the county, and they are all fit for the job. Kelly said every deputy at the agency goes through a direct threat training on an annual basis and sometimes even more frequently.
Kelly said every deputy is capable of protecting a school, but it’s their real-life training that prepares them for the worst possible scenario.
Jackie Johnson, spokeswoman of Alachua County Public Schools, said a lobbying effort to gain state funding, which would keep deputies in schools, is among the prepared resolutions.
School systems have endured very deep budget cuts over the last few years, as have counties, cities and law enforcement agencies, she said.
“They simply don’t have the money to fund school resource officers at all elementary schools,” she said. “That’s going to have to come from either the state or the federal government.”
For now, no additional funding is being used for the current safety efforts that have been in effect since early January, Kelly said.
Along with training for extreme cases, deputies are also able to address issues that nearly every school faces – bullying, for example.
The role of a deputy is not confined to the school’s hallways and parking lots. Being an alliance for the community is arguably as crucial, Johnson said.
“A lot of times you find that a strong bond of trust develops between the students, parents and their school’s resource officer because it’s somebody that they see, talk to and work with on a daily basis,” she said.
Rebekah Geier edited this story online.