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'What We Can Do Better:' Polk County Sheriff Explains MSD Commission's Next Report

A Broward Sheriff instructor, far right, oversees two of the armed guardian trainees during a firearms training at the BSO shooting range at Markham Park in July. The guardian program is one of several recommendations made by the state MSD commission.
Emily Michot
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The state commission investigating the Parkland shooting is wrapping up a second report that outlines more school safety recommendations. It’ll be sent to the governor’s office by Nov. 1.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission met near Orlando for two days this week. Members discussed mental health, threat assessments in schools and the “guardian” program, which allows some school staff to carry firearms.

The commission has until 2023 to meet again.

On the South Florida Roundup, host Danny Rivero spoke with Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, a MSD commission member, about what’s going in the new report and where efforts stand to protect Florida schools.

Here's an excerpt of their conversation:

DANNY RIVERO: What will the second report have that the first report didn't touch on?

SHERIFF GRADY JUDD: We're going to talk about mental health. We don't have sufficient mental health funding any place in the state for anyone of any age. Normal people don't shoot up schools, houses of worship or places of employment. So what we know is that we have to get in early. If you see something, hear something, say something. And law enforcement arrives. We find people in crisis. We Baker Act them. Then what? We want to make sure that there's not only services, but robust services to help those who are in mental health crisis, to help those that we believe may have a proclivity to do a horrific act, such as be an active shooter.

The goal of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Commission is not only to investigate that horrible tragedy, but to see what we can do better. What best practices can we put in place to reduce the probabilities, one of an event occurring and to if it does, to mitigate damages.

Sheriff, when you read through the findings that the commission has made, it's overwhelmingly clear that the majority of the persistent issues with school safety are happening specifically in Broward County. What makes Broward such a problem area in the state when it comes to these issues of school safety?

It is just beyond all understanding of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas commission of how of all the places in the state of Florida, you could have pushback. Some of the greatest pushback we're getting while trying to keep children safe is in Broward County, where the horrible tragedy occurred. Residents of Broward County, those that you elect, are not taking a leadership position. They're not showing a sense of urgency. And they're not working to make sure your children are as safe in school as they could be or should be.

But I can tell you, one of them that I've taken a personal interest in is the failure for the Broward County Commission and the Hollywood City commissioners to build out a much needed radio tower in Hollywood to ensure safety and security of not only first responders, but to make sure that we can deliver the appropriate services to those that may be in need. So one of my requests to put in our report is that the state of Florida passed legislation that says, When a government such as the Broward County Commission or the Hollywood city commission, when they're at loggerheads over a piece of technological equipment to keep people safe that at that point in time, when they can't come to a satisfactory resolution in the best interests of keeping people safe, the state legislature will allow the governor to step in and build the tower.

The commission is also set to recommend changes to state law to make it clear that only sheriffs can train someone for the guardian program. Has there been any confusion about this, leading up to this recommendation?

There's not been any confusion by the commission. There has been one event that occurred in Palm Beach County where a private organization decided that they, too, could train guardians. I was involved in the discussion from the very beginning, because the Guardian program that's inculcated in state law is a sentinel program that my training team designed here years ago. They changed the name of it, added twelve hours to their curriculum and put it in place. I was involved with Gov. [Rick] Scott and the leadership in the House and the Senate.

Clearly, it was never the intent for a private firm to be able to train and certify guardians, and they can't by law. But as with all laws, there's some lawyers involved in this event that are word-smithing and crafting some small modicum of doubt. So we're only wanting to clean up the language.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Alexander Gonzalez is a recent graduate of the University of Miami. He majored in English and was the the editor-in-chief of The Miami Hurricane newspaper from 2014-15. He was WLRN's digital intern during summer 2015. He subscribes to too many podcasts and can't get away from covering the arts in Miami.
Daniel Rivero is a reporter and producer for WLRN, covering Latino and criminal justice issues. Before joining the team, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion.