DeSantis panel wants more police authority in Florida schools


  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
A change in culture, with law enforcement handed more on-campus authority, is needed to improve school safety, members of a transition advisory panel for Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis said Thursday.

Andy Pollack, a member of the Transition Advisory Committee on Public Safety whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow was one of 17 people killed last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, said security issues should be taken away from school district officials.

“Bureaucrats don’t understand policing, police work,” Pollack said. “We need to take the bureaucrats out of the mix of policing in schools, just take it all out and give to the police departments and sheriff’s departments. It should be their decision to have guardians or (school resource officers).”

Pollack supports expanding a program approved after the Feb. 14 mass shooting that allows trained “guardians” to bring guns to public schools. The guardians are school personnel whose primary job duties are outside the classroom.

The committee discussed school security after getting an overview of a report on the Parkland shooting.

Released Wednesday, the 446-page report from the state’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission recommends that classroom teachers also be allowed to act as armed guardians, even though that controversial idea created an impasse before a school-safety measure passed the Legislature last year.

DeSantis advisory-committee member Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff's Office Deputies Association, said Thursday law enforcement should have authority over arrests on school grounds.

“We need to be unleashed into the schools, show consequences to the kids, so that when they grow and turn 18, we’re not actually creating a pipeline to the prison system,” Bell said. “We need to show there is accountability for your poor decisions and your poor actions. Curb behavior at the beginning, instead of when it’s too late and we let someone like Nicholas Cruz to flourish within our school board system.”

Cruz, who has pleaded not guilty to 17 counts of murder in the shooting at his former high school, had a lengthy history of mental-health problems and run-ins with authority figures, including law enforcement and school officials.

Several committee members said during Thursday’s conference call that changes are needed to help former and retired law-enforcement officers more easily move into school security jobs. Patrick Miller, a committee member and president of Boynton Beach-based Invictus Security, argued for the establishment of a state license that would allow the private sector to be involved in campus security.

“With the drawdown in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas of the world, we have well-trained security assets to supplement law enforcement as a force multiplier and cost-effective option here in the state of Florida,” Miller said.

Chairman Kent Stermon, whose committee will present recommendations to DeSantis, said the governor-elect needs to be pressed on ideas that expand the number of “qualified” security people.

“It’s alarming to me how difficult it is to find the people who are qualified and willing to do this work,” Stermon said.

The report released Wednesday after months of investigation by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission outlined “personal and system failures” that culminated in the mass shooting at the Broward County school.

The report blamed the Broward County school system and sheriff’s office for being unprepared and for delays in responding to the volley of bullets from the AR-15 rifle used by Cruz.

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