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Sarasota Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018 2 years ago

Sheriff's Office looks to place armed veterans, retired police officers at county schools

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Sheriff Tom Knight said the plan would improve student safety.
by: Ryan Butler News Innovation Editor

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office announced support for a program to place armed, retired law enforcement and military veterans at county schools as a means to enhance safety, Sheriff Tom Knight said in a statement released today.

Knight called for the security personnel to be contracted by the school district and then trained by the sheriff’s office. He said in a statement that Sarasota County Schools Superintendent Todd Bowden “agrees this can be a win-win for everyone.”

“This is not an overnight solution but it’s a good place to start,” Knight said in a release.

Through this program, the sheriff’s office would provide specialized training on firearms, defensive tactics and active shooter situations. Individual schools would oversee hiring, and training would be tailored to meet the needs of each school.

The sheriff's office said in the release that school resource deputies are made available to every middle and high school in Sarasota County.  Added security would supplement the sheriff’s office school resource program and allow for retired first responders to stay actively engaged in their communities. 

To go through with his plan, Knight said Florida statutes preventing concealed carry permits on school campuses would have to change.

“If our lawmakers are willing to make the proper changes for the safety of Florida students, I will support their decision and stand ready to take action,” Knight said.

In the release, Knight said the sheriff’s office has spent the last two years evaluating ways to help school officials develop security plans. School security has gained increased national and local attention in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida that killed 14 students and three faculty members.

The sheriff’s office has investigated multiple reports of threats to Sarasota County schools in the week after the shooting. None have led to a credible threat, and law enforcement officials have attributed the recent run of reported threats to heightened awareness and media attention.

Sarasota County schools are undergoing a six-year, $21 million effort to create one single point of entry on every campus. The project presents different challenges for each facility, particularly older ones with open plans.

Today, School Board Chairwoman Bridget Ziegler and Booker High School Principal Dr. Rachel Shelley met with Gov. Rick Scott in Tallahassee to participate in a school safety task force meeting. The school district is also collecting citizen input on school security via email at [email protected].

I’m the News Innovation Editor for the Observer Media Group, which means I help report and package stories for our website, including breaking news. I graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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