PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — WPTV is continuing our exclusive coverage of school safety in South Florida in the wake of the May 24 deadly mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Education reporter Stephanie Susskind on Thursday got an exclusive look at the Real-Time Command Center at the Palm Beach County School District Police Department, where the technology is constantly improving.
In the past three to six months, the department has been able to map out schools to unlock doors with the push of a button.
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"You can see who is accessing the building," said Palm Beach County School District police analyst Dee Wright, who's the eyes and ears of the command center.
The high-tech room gives Wright access to everything from security cameras to school bus routes and police officer locations.
"I think the key is the ability to share information with some of the other agencies also," said Police Chief Sarah Mooney. "It is unique that the school district would have this. They really have some pretty impressive technology here and available."
Mooney said the Real-Time Command Center is just one piece of the safety puzzle.
As she works to recruit new officers at a critical time with school security in the spotlight, a pay raise is in the works, something school police officers have talked about for a while.
"Their hourly rate is going to go up 5%, which puts them I think in the top two or three for starting pay in the county," Mooney said. "Being a law enforcement officer is very difficult and I think they earn every cent they make. And I’m a proponent of trying to be supportive of what the officers think they need."
The chief said with new school safety laws on the books, it will further enhance what the school district's police department is already doing to prevent and respond to emergencies, with a big focus on crisis intervention training.
"It's a prevention piece, and if you can prevent things from happening, that’s the biggest part of our job," Mooney said. "That’s gonna help you divert a lot of the things that could turn into something more than what they are."
Mooney added that crisis intervention training requires a multi-faceted approach to handling incidents.
"It's not necessarily a violent crisis every time. It could be an emotional crisis somebody’s going through," Mooney said.
Another major component of the new HB 1421 school safety law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this week requires public school districts in Florida to have a board-approved reunification plan in case of an emergency, something Mooney said is in the works in the School District of Palm Beach County and will be ready to go before the new academic year starts in August.
"We had the plans in the background, but now we’ll have the software to go with it," Mooney said. "We try to do it before we’re told we have to, because it’s in the best interest of the kids and the safety of the schools."
The police chief wants parents to know it's an ongoing effort to constantly look at ways to keep everyone safe.
"We have a really good team working on this, and I just want them to trust that we are going to make it as safe as possible on these campuses," Mooney said.
The Palm Beach County School Board is expected to vote on the police officer pay raise agreement at its June 15 meeting, as well as a new panic alarm system.