Venice chief decides to assign school officers to patrol duties in 2019-2020.
Contrary to initial staffing plans, the Venice Police Department has decided to sign on with the Sarasota County Schools Police Department to fill the vacated school resource officer positions in the 2019-2020 academic year.
Once staffing Venice Elementary and Venice High, the school district's police force will work in every public school in the county.
When SCSPD announced plans for growth and expansion in the county, Venice police elected to maintain their presence in town schools. At the time, SCSPD had planned to hire an additional 23 sworn officers for the 2019-2020 academic year. Now, the plan is to hire 26 sworn officers, as well as two civilian officers as an administrative assistant and evidence clerk.
The switch surprised school board members, who learned about the change in plan April 16.
“We received communication from Venice that they would rather put their officers out on patrol and in some of their specialty units that they've been unable to staff,” Sarasota County Superintendent Todd Bowden told board members. “So, it's a zero-sum on the budget. We're essentially moving [that money] from contracted services and increasing the headcount in our police department by three.”
According to SCSPD Chief Tim Enos, the terminated contract may even save the school district a small sum of money, depending on final costs.
Enos said the continuity of service across the district schools makes sense.
“I think it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to be in charge of the school police department and to be able provide service that will now be in all Sarasota County public schools,” Enos said. “Venice Police Department has offered great service there and has always been a great partner to the school district.”
Venice Police Chief Tom Mattmuller said his department is ready to assist the district force in any way possible.
“We’ve always had SROs at our schools. We definitely really enjoyed the partnership we’ve had at the schools … and really having that connection with the kids,” he said. “We’re here to assist [SCSPD] in any way we can. I feel confident that they feel ready to handle the role.”
Venice's substation will remain in place at the high school, serving both as an office for Venice officers and as a place where the two departments can maintain and strengthen their relationship.
Officers at the Venice station are also helping SCSPD to maintain their evidence and property until they hire a new on-site clerk.
Plus, Mattmuller says, their choice not to renew their SRO contract does not mean they will be absent from school-based activities.
“It’s not just staying involved in school safety, but prom, after-school activities and making sure students are making the right decisions,” he said. “Just because we’re not in the schools in the capacity of an SRO, that doesn’t mean we’re walking away from students or the schools … I actually think this is a good thing for the community and school board and the students.”