PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Close to two dozen Palm Beach County deputies will soon be patrolling at some Palm Beach County public schools to help make up for a school police officer shortage.
It's important to note that every school is protected with a law enforcement officer, meeting state requirements.
A WPTV Contact 5 investigation in November revealed about 60 vacant positions in the Palm Beach County School District Police Department. We learned Tuesday that not much has changed since then.
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"This may be the first opportunity for some of these children to meet a police officer to be their friend," said Palm Beach County School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri.
Barbieri, a former police officer himself, knows the importance of the job and the challenges trying to fill it.
"Like everywhere else, we are just short on employees," Barbieri said. "We're short on teachers, bus drivers, police officers, we're short. You can go just about anywhere and see, we're hiring. I don't know where everybody went after the pandemic as it's winding down. It just seems like there aren't enough people to fill the jobs we had before."
Right now, the Palm Beach County School District Police Department has about 68 vacant positions.
"What the district has been doing in the shortage is putting some of the administrators — the lieutenants and up — and move them into the schools," Barbieri said. "But it's been difficult to cover all the schools consistently."
That's why the School District of Palm Beach County will now contract with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office to provide about 20 deputies to cover schools.
"We're working out better communication, better collaboration with the school police," said Sheriff Ric Bradshaw. "The bottom line is — when they are fully staffed or not — when there is a big event, they are going to have to rely on us to come and help them."
Bradshaw said many of the deputies will likely be the same ones who stepped into the role before in the immediate aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland in 2018.
"This is going to be overtime," Bradshaw said. "They are not going to be taken off the road. We put the jobs out and people sign up and go to the schools. It will probably be the same deputy just about every time in the schools."
The sheriff said his deputies will mostly patrol elementary schools.
"We just want to make sure the coverage is there. The kids are safe, the teachers are safe," Bradshaw said.
The School District of Palm Beach County also has contracts with some city police departments to make up for the officer shortage.
The deputies will begin patrolling once a contract is finalized with the school district. The sheriff said his deputies will also pitch in at the start of next school year.
If you're interested in becoming a police officer in the School District of Palm Beach County, click here to fill out an application.