School safety mish­mash

Fund­ing re­quests vary from polo shirts to sim­u­la­tors.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY CAT GLO­RIA, BRAN­DON MEYER AND SARAH STAN­LEY Spe­cial to the Times

The Bre­vard County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice made a big pur­chase with the state fund­ing it re­ceived to start a school guardian pro­gram: a 300-de­gree use-of-force sim­u­la­tor that lets trainees step into a vir­tual ac­tive-shooter sit­u­a­tion. The cost: $124,995.

Last year, Florida law­mak­ers doled out $9.4 mil­lion to help train “guardians,” school dis­trict em­ploy­ees who can carry con­cealed weapons on cam­pus and help in ac­tive-shooter sit­u­a­tions. Class­room teach­ers can­not par­tic­i­pate, but prin­ci­pals, coaches and other em­ploy­ees can.

The pro­gram was cre­ated as part of the Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School Pub­lic Safety Act. The leg­is­la­tion sought to make school cam­puses safer af­ter last year’s deadly shoot­ing in Broward County.

Two dozen coun­ties opted to use guardians in their tra­di­tional schools. Each filed bud­get re­quests with the state De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion. They had broad dis­cre­tion over how to spend the money and few rules to fol­low.

Most asked for money for train­ing sup­plies, weapons and salar­ies for the guardians. But sev­eral al­lo­cated funds for cloth­ing, ban­ners and travel, ac­cord­ing to a re­view of bud­gets by the

Tampa Bay Times and Univer­sity of Florida jour­nal­ism stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ing in a data re­port­ing class.

The funds were meant to be used “solely for ac­tiv­i­ties that di­rectly sup­port the ac­com­plish­ment of the pro­gram” plus a one­time $500 stipend for school guardians, ac­cord­ing to the law and grant ap­pli­ca­tion.

Some pro­grams de­cided to pay their guardians an hourly rate. Oth­ers only of­fered the $500.

The Polk County Sher­iff’s Of­fice asked for the most money: more than $1 mil­lion for guardians in tra­di­tional schools, plus an ad­di­tional $464,000 for guardians for the county’s char­ter schools and $46,000 for ad­min­is­tra­tive costs.

Pinel­las and Hills­bor­ough re­quested about $1.5 mil­lion and $943,000 re­spec­tively. The money was largely for sup­plies, train­ing costs and stipends, ac­cord­ing to the pro­pos­als.

Bre­vard’s to­tal ask of $863,476 in­cluded the MILO 300 train­ing sim­u­la­tor.

The 300-de­gree, five-pro­jec­tor ma­chine sim­u­lates real-life sit­u­a­tions in­volv­ing ac­tive shooters. The Bre­vard County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice was no stranger to the vir­tual re­al­ity tool. It al­ready had one, ac­cord­ing to an Air Force press re­lease from April 2017.

The cost of the new ma­chine sur­passed the to­tal bud­get re­quests of at least a dozen other coun­ties, records show.

When asked about the pur­chase, me­dia re­la­tions deputy Tod Goodyear con­firmed that the de­part­ment al­ready owned a MILO sys­tem. The new ma­chine, he said, had been “re­ceived and in­stalled.”

In its ap­pli­ca­tion, the de­part­ment said the “equip­ment would help the Guardians fur­ther de­velop de­ci­sion mak­ing skills that are paramount to de­cid­ing whether or not to use a firearm dur­ing a crit­i­cal in­ci­dent.”

Bre­vard also planned to spend money on duty weapons, train­ing ri­fles and hand­guns, and firearm range equip­ment such as prac­tice tar­gets and sil­hou­ettes, records show.

Florida De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion spokes­woman Ch­eryl Et­ters said each sher­iff’s of­fice had worked with their lo­cal school dis­trict to cre­ate a bud­get for the pro­gram. Coun­ties could also put their own money to­ward the pro­gram, she said.

“Other than en­sur­ing that each dis­trict’s bud­get ap­pro­pri­a­tion meets the statu­tory re­quire­ments, the de­part­ment is not in­volved in over­sight,” Et­ters said in a state­ment.

Clay County got a lit­tle more than $2,500 to send two staff mem­bers to a “racial in­tel­li­gence” train­ing course in Ten­nessee. Clay County Sher­iff’s Of­fice pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer Chris Pad­gett said the trip was a ne­ces­sity to ful­fill the di­ver­sity train­ing re­quired by the state.

“In­stead of pay­ing peo­ple each time the pro­gram comes through to come in to teach, we took two of our mem­bers, sent them to this pro­gram in Ten­nessee where it was be­ing of­fered and we ac­tu­ally got them cer­ti­fied to be in­struc­tors,” Pad­gett said. “From that point for­ward, they can in­struct in house.”

At least eight other coun­ties al­lo­cated funds for di­ver­sity train­ing.

The Jack­sonville Sher­iff’s Of­fice re­quested $141,000 for psy­cho­log­i­cal ex­ams and poly­graph ser­vices, a to­tal of more than $1,300 per guardian.

The of­fice did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Vo­lu­sia County asked for more than $50,000 for base­ball caps, wind­break­ers, polo shirts, re­flec­tive sashes, gun belts and bul­let­proof vests. The cost was about $1,000 per guardian, records show.

Vo­lu­sia County schools co­or­di­na­tor for emer­gency ser­vices and school safety Craig L. Pen­der Sr. said most of the cloth­ing came through the dis­trict’s ware­house. The uni­forms would make the guardians vis­i­ble and iden­ti­fi­able, Pen­der added, and help pre­vent friendly fire in a cri­sis.

“Part of our push is to make our guardians a part of their school com­mu­nity,” he wrote in an email. “Our guardians are ex­pected to be vis­i­ble, and the uni­form makes them eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able no mat­ter which cam­pus you step on.”

The small­est asks of around $50,000 each came from Nas­sau, Gilchrist and Sara­sota coun­ties.

No guardians had started in Nas­sau, said Al­lan Reynolds, the Nas­sau County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer.

The Sher­iff’s Of­fice hopes to start train­ing at least five of them in Jan­uary, Reynolds said.

Cat Glo­ria, Bran­don Meyer and Sarah Stan­ley are stu­dents at the Univer­sity of Florida. This re­port was edited by Times deputy in­ves­ti­ga­tions ed­i­tor Kath­leen McGrory. Con­tact her at km­c­[email protected]­pabay.com.

As­so­ci­ated Press (2018)

A Broward Sher­iff’s Of­fice trainer, cen­ter, watches two newly hired school guardians dur­ing firearms train­ing in Sun­rise.

LUIS SAN­TANA | Times (2018)

Scott Bowlin un­der­goes an ac­tive shooter drill taught by the Pasco County Sher­iff’s Of­fice at Charles S. Rushe Mid­dle School in Land O’Lakes as part of the school guardian pro­gram.

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