School Safety Task Force Examines Role Of SRO's

Jun 11, 2018
Originally published on June 8, 2018 4:40 pm

The commission charged with improving school safety is looking into the effectiveness of school resource officers—a school’s main line of defense that critics say failed students at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School amid a Valentine’s Day shooting. Seventeen students died, more than a dozen others were injured.

Broward's school resource officer program has been under fire after the SRO stationed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School decided not to enter the building during the shooting. The school safety commission is now looking into the role and responsibilities of SRO's.

"It’s teacher, counselor and law enforcement," says the Florida School Resource Officer Associations' Tim Enos.

He says schools, and their individual needs, can change as well over time.

“If you’re an elementary SRO you’ll do a lot more teaching than law enforcement. By the time you get to high school you’ll do a lot more law enforcement than teaching."

That includes taking on additional tasks, like counselor and advisor to school administrators, parents and students, Enos told the commission during his presentation Friday.

The Florida legislature allocated millions of dollars to put more SRO’s into schools. But the money still isn’t enough to cover all the costs of putting an officer in each public school in the state. And while that’s a state metric, sheriff Bob Gualtierie points out the recommendation of a National SRO group is higher: One officer per 1,000 students.

Varying philosophies on the role of the SRO in the school could lead to problems—like whether a principal chooses to report a student due to reluctance of feeding the “school to prison” pipeline. and that’s led to increased focus on a program in Broward that was designed to keep kids from getting criminal referral. It’s called the Promise Program, and it’s come under fire in the wake of the shooting. Critics say Broward has protected kids who otherwise should have been under arrest. Supporters say its granted troubled kids a second chance.

“The promise program is facilitated by the promise program and it would be the school board officials who do the…referral," said Broward SRO program head Nichole Anderson.

Yet there are circumstances, she says,  in which a student has been referred to the program multiple times. That’s because the SRO’s the district and the broader law enforcement agencies are all using different databases. And they don’t all talk to one another, despite state law mandating uniformity, says Democratic State Senator Lauren Book.

“Under Florida statutes---DJJ and the sheriffs, chief of police in each county enter into an interagency agreement about juvenile offenders…am I to understand that’s not currently happening?”

Anderson says it’s not.  “They don’t have access to our system, we don’t have access to their system. I can’t stand here in good conscience and tell you it’s happening.”

And Commission Chairman and Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtiere says that’s a problem across the state.

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