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Plant City Observer Thursday, Jul. 5, 2018 4 months ago

New school year comes with added security

Florida schools now come with a mandatory officer. Hillsborough is currently training its new guardians and PCPD will hold down the fort at three elementary schools until training is complete.
by: Breanne Williams Staff Writer

A new era of school safety has arrived.

This fall, when students walk the halls on their first day of class, some may notice a new addition to the facilities. Due to Florida’s school security mandate, a trained — and armed — guard will be on every campus.

Ultimately, Hillsborough will provide armed security officers at the schools that lack a resource officer. Until then, local law enforcement has agreed to provide temporary coverage of the schools not yet covered by the program.

Plant City Police Chief Ed Duncan said there are 11 total schools in its jurisdiction, but only three will not have the sheriff’s placements ready by the start of the school year. He said he selected his officers based on their maturity and years of experience.

The schools will have the same officer on site every day and Duncan said he reallocated resources so patrol will not see any decline in services. Other units he has are being used to secure the campuses, which may cause a small delay in “nuisance complaints,” but will not severely alter any services.

Burney Elementary, Bryan Elementary and Advantage Academy of Hillsborough will be protected by an officer from PCPD until approximately the first week of September, when the Hillsborough staff members should be trained and ready to take the position full-time.

“It’s just an added layer of protection at the schools for safety concerns,” Duncan said. “It should be somewhat comforting to know there is an officer on scene. He’s on campus, just that visual deterrent alone could make a difference.”

Duncan said that it is an opportunity to have immediate access to the source. He said often following a school shooting people begin to reflect on what they could have done to prevent the tragedy from occurring. His officers will be there every day. The hope is they will build a rapport and a relationship with the students to help identify warning signs in advance and potentially be able to stop an incident from occurring.

“We’re all partly responsible for our own safety,” Duncan said. “That whole campaign about ‘see something, say something,’ that is something that is very important. As good as law enforcement is at their job — and I feel strongly about that — we’re only as good as our partnerships that we’ve formed with the community and our business partners. If we can get those relationships in the schools where people are more open and giving us information and not worried about those titles of being a snitch, in reality, it’s beyond titles now, people are actually dying. Massive numbers of young men and women have lost their lives, which needs to stop.”

Duncan recommends parents sit their children down and discuss the realities of school safety. Having an open line of communication between children and parents can help ease any residual fears. Soon, the appearance of an armed guard will be commonplace. For the younger children in the elementary schools that PCPD is caring for there will soon come a day when they won’t remember not having an armed security officer roaming the halls.

Building a level of trust between the students and the personnel will only increase the chance the officers have of being able to keep an attack from happening here in Plant City, Duncan said.

“This was a significant impact for Hillsborough County because Hillsborough County is the eighth largest school district in the nation and the third largest in the state of Florida. It would be much simpler if you only had maybe 50 school sites to cover, but when you’re talking about 280 that’s a tremendous impact.”

The temporary officers will undergo Critical Incident Response Training, which will be conducted through the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office later this month. The incoming guardians, or armed security officers, will receive 132 hours of training for the new role. Duncan said much of that education involves the training officers receive every year like active shooter scenarios and firearms proficiency.

Duncan said the training essentially focuses on how to identify and immediately stop a threat. He likened it to one of the more recent school shootings in which a school resource officer had to traverse across campus to take down the shooter. “A lot of damage can take place in seconds,” he said. As large as some campuses are, even the two minutes that it could take for them to get to the area in question could allow massive casualties to be inflicted.

This may not be the final answer to preventing the attacks, but it is where Florida has decided to start.

“The school shootings are having the same impact on schools that 9/11 had on airports,” Duncan said. “It’s a new era we’re approaching. It’s state statute now. It’s law that every school campus will have an armed officer on the campus full time. It’s a transition that has evolved out of the necessity to keep our children safe.”

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