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Broward School Board rushes to prevent community input on school safety plan | #schoolsaftey

The School Board is scheduled to vote Jan. 9 on the creation and funding of a 400-member school police department intended to dismantle the current School Resource Officer (SRO) program. Yet, there has not been a single workshop or community meeting with students, parents, teachers and the law enforcement community to discuss the merits, safety risks and costs of this plan.

Multiple Broward school safety task forces and the School Board staff itself have already concluded the School Board does not have the financial and management capacity to deploy and maintain such a sprawling and complicated police force that must be integrated into our community-based emergency response. Additionally, the plan to hire hundreds of qualified law enforcement officers is impossible unless they lower standards for qualifications and undermine strategies improved on since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre.

The current Broward SRO program links our schools and our cities operationally, where certified law enforcement officers are provided by cities to schools through a negotiated contract. SROs are not security guards or disciplinarians; they are certified law enforcement officers who undergo specialized training and screening to protect our schools and build relationships in a community-policing model.

Sun Sentinel

Mike Ryan is the mayor of Sunrise.

City-based SROs currently provide the most rapid law enforcement response to school violence threats because they are integrated seamlessly into the communication and command structure of the response teams. With over 300 schools, 30,000 employees and 250,000 students across 425 square miles, the school district relies upon city SROs as the frontline to protect students and teachers.

A January 2013 Broward League of Cities’ SRO Taskforce spotlighted that the School Board was contributing only approximately one-quarter of the costs of an SRO, with the annual subsidy by cities estimated to be over $20 million. Some cities couldn’t deploy full-time SROs in elementary schools due to the lack of meaningful financial contribution. But after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the task force concluded that the School Board must increase its financial contribution to encourage complete SRO coverage. That didn’t happen. Instead, the School Board contribution slowly increased to approximately one-third of the cost.

Then, the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School changed everything. Failures of the initial response and command, control and communications became the subject of intense analysis and operational changes intended to provide better accountability and response.

A June 2018 Broward League of Cities’ Schools and Community Public Safety Taskforce issued a lengthy report intensively examining school safety issues. The School Board staff analyzed the merits of creating its own district police department. Staff concluded then that the hiring, training and equipping of the then-proposed 311 school police officers would cost the School Board $57 million in the first year alone, and hiring so many qualified certified law enforcement officers while maintaining the standards of the existing SRO program was nearly impossible.

We know there is a shortage of qualified law enforcement officers nationwide and locally. In 2022, compared to 2019, resignations of police officers nationwide were up 47% and retirements were up 19%. Fewer young people are entering police academies. As a result, police departments are competing to fill vacancies. Hiring hundreds of qualified officers even over several years is impossible without lowering qualification standards or providing much higher salaries and benefits.

After MSD and convincing taxpayers to support school safety with a tax increase, the School Board finally increased its contribution to $103,000 per SRO. Even with that reimbursement, the cities continue to subsidize some of the SRO costs.

Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties have their own police forces; the task forces noted that Miami-Dade has not historically provided full-time SRO coverage or matched the Broward SRO policing model. Yet, the superintendent reportedly said Palm Beach County’s department focuses more on “helping kids than arresting them.” That insults our Broward SROs, who have struggled mightily to adapt to the School District’s poor and ever-changing disciplinary structures, its priority on protecting public image over transparency of school security, and a lack of consistency in student mental health initiatives.

Today, in a crisis, the SROs and local law enforcement teams are coordinated as part of the same communication and command structure. Relying upon school district officers on a different radio communication system, with different command and control structures, and with different management philosophies regarding transparency of school safety in an emergency, should frighten everyone.

The School Board is rushing a vote involving a paramount responsibility to protect our students and teachers while dismantling the current integrated community law enforcement emergency response program. We must demand transparency, accountability and that our voices be heard first.

Mike Ryan is mayor of Sunrise, a former elementary school PTA president, and co-chair of the 2012-2013 Broward League of Cities’ Joint School Resource Officers Task Force and the 2018-2019 Broward League of Cities’ School and Community Public Safety Task Force.

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