School police officer shortage in Palm Beach County

District losing officers to retirement, other municipal departments
A Palm Beach County school police officer during the 2021_22 academic year.jpg
Posted at 10:10 AM, Nov 08, 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Tony Mackowski has time for hobbies like making furniture and wooden signs. Last year, he retired after 17 years as a police officer with the School District of Palm Beach County.

"I do miss it," said Mackowski, a former New York City police officer who misses the interaction with kids.

COVID-19 concerns led him to quit a job he loved.

"I had older parents," said Mackowski. "I had to be 100% home with my mom."

School police officers are leaving the School District of Palm Beach County in large numbers. WPTV Contact 5 found 44 left during the first eight months of the year.

There are now 60 openings, which is more than 20% of the force.

WPTV looked at their resignation letters. Some retired, and some joined other area police agencies.

"Most school districts cannot compete with say a local municipality, a county sheriff’s office, in pay and benefits," said Frank Kitzerow, who was the Palm Beach County Schools Chief of Police until retiring this year.

Under his watch, 150 school police officers were hired after state mandates forced districts to ramp up staffing in the wake of the deadly shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018.

But with many of these officers leaving, schools are turning to local police agencies to fill mandated shifts. These local officers are mostly off-duty and get paid time and a half by the school district.

"The officer on the campus is paying attention to the calls, they’re writing reports," said Kitzerow. "And the guy making time and a half is just there to back him up, it really effects morale."

The School District of Palm Beach County just approved a 3.5% raise for its officers, which may make the job more lucrative.

Makowski said the district should recruit police officers willing to trade the salary that’s lower than municipalities, for the extra time off that comes with working a school schedule.

"A couple of weeks off during the summer, you have Thanksgiving, you have Spring Break," said Makowski, who was in charge of recruiting new officers for his last three years on the job. "You’re off when your kids are off. You’re off when your grandkids are off."

Kitzerow thinks Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plan to offer a $5,000 bonus to police officers from other states to work in Florida will help ease the shortage.

And there is the extra bonus of working 300 hours less a year than a municipal officer, that’s more than seven weeks.

Those considering work as a school police officer in the School District of Palm Beach County can start the process by clicking this link to the application form.