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Sarah Mooney takes over as Palm Beach County school district police chief

Mooney served as West Palm Beach police chief from February 2017 until June 2019
Chief Sarah Mooney of the School District of Palm Beach County's police department speaks on May 4, 2022.jpg
Posted at 9:00 AM, May 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-04 17:06:40-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The new chief of the School District of Palm Beach County's police department marked her first day on the job Wednesday.

School board members on April 20 unanimously approved the hiring of Sarah Mooney — the former police chief of the West Palm Beach Police Department — as chief of school police and school district security.

Mooney was officially sworn-in Wednesday afternoon to start leading the school district's police department.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education

Mooney was the chief of the West Palm Beach Police Department from February 2017 until June 2019, when she was reassigned to a new position as chief of police for emergency management.

Mooney — who will be the School District of Palm Beach County's fourth police chief in about a year — said she's "honored and excited" to take over the department.

"It's gonna be a big challenge," Mooney told WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind. "It’s a lot of responsibility, but I think being given the opportunity and the people I’ve already met here and the experience in the agency already, I think it's going to benefit us."

WATCH SWEARING-IN CEREMONY:

Swearing in ceremony for Palm Beach County school police chief Sarah Mooney

According to Mooney's resume, she started with the West Palm Beach Police Department in May 1995 as a patrol officer and worked her way up the ranks to sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and eventually police chief.

Mooney said her "number one challenge" will be staffing and increasing manpower in the police department, which currently has between 55 and 60 vacancies — down from about 68 in February — due to officers retiring, resigning, or moving to other agencies for higher pay.

"The numbers are down, but that’s because the department grew almost exponentially overnight and it’s difficult to fill those spots," Mooney said. "Nationwide right now there’s a critical shortage of police officers. So you are competing with every other agency in the area and in the country."

The School District of Palm Beach County currently has contracts with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, as well as police agencies in West Palm Beach, Jupiter, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach Gardens to provide law enforcement resources to school campuses.

Superintendent Mike Burke said at a school board meeting in March those seven agencies are providing a total of 32 law enforcement officers to the school district.

A Palm Beach County school police officer walks the halls of a school during the 2021-22 academic year.jpg
A Palm Beach County school police officer walks the halls of a school during the 2021-22 academic year.

Mooney said she knows she needs to up the department's staff and morale, and her goal is to put together a dedicated team to focus on officer recruitment.

"I think there are a lot of people who are ready to serve in this capacity. It’s just a matter of identifying them and giving them the opportunity and maybe even the invite to join the team," Mooney said. "There are a lot of people who have worked in this agency for a number of years and their input is going to be very important on what we need to bring in."

Burke said the school district launched a nationwide search for a new police chief following the resignation of former chief Dan Alexander in January, and found that Mooney was the "most qualified candidate."

"Our district school police department sets the benchmark for excellence on our campuses," Burke said. "I have complete confidence that with Chief Mooney at the helm, our campuses will remain a safe environment for students and education to flourish."

Superintendent Mike Burke of the School District of Palm Beach County speaks on May 4, 2022.jpg
Superintendent Mike Burke of the School District of Palm Beach County speaks on May 4, 2022.

Mooney on Wednesday said she wants to work with the community to turn challenges into opportunities.

"I’m really community-oriented when it comes to police work," Mooney said. "I think you can do a lot of work on the front-end so you don’t have to do as much law enforcement type work on the back-end."

Former West Palm Beach Police Chief Sarah Mooney patrols city streets in Feb. 2017.jpg
Former West Palm Beach Police Chief Sarah Mooney patrols city streets in Feb. 2017.

The West Palm Beach Police Department posted a farewell message to Mooney on Facebook Tuesday night, thanking her for more than two decades of service and dedication to the city.

"Well-known and respected in the community, we wish her continued success and know the students and faculty of Palm Beach County are in good hands under Chief Mooney's leadership," the police department posted.

"We’re gonna work together and do the best we can," Mooney said Wednesday. "I’m transparent about what I do and more than receptive to have people give me their points of view on things. It’s a team effort. It’s not one person."

WPTV also asked Mooney about the hot button issue that comes up every so often about a possible Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office takeover of the school police department. She said she's confident she can lead the department to where it needs to be, if given the time to do so.