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Palm Beach County Grand Jury issues report on school safety

Posted: 4:48 PM, Jun 20, 2018
Updated: 2018-06-21 14:29:38Z

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.-- In the wake of the Parkland massacre, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg called for a review of school safety in Palm Beach County.  The vehicle to do so: A grand jury.

"By its nature it is private, it is a random cross-section of community insulated from political power and can subpoena witnesses," Aronberg said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference to announce the grand jury's findings.

Witnesses called included administrators, teachers, mental health experts, law enforcement and school security. 
 
RELATED: READ THE GRAND JURY'S REPORT ON SCHOOL SAFETY

The grand jury found the ratio of students to police is 1,684 to one in the county. 

"The city of Jupiter, in contrast, has a ratio of 583 per one officer, Boca 454 to 1, Boynton 448 to one and Delray 361 to one," Aronberg said.

He said that needs to be addressed but it’s not that simple.  The recommendation is to pay officers more and better equip them. "Most law enforcement agencies in Palm Beach County have unfilled positions and are now competing for the same pipeline of applicants as the schools."

The report said the school police department could have trouble attracting law enforcement officers because it is the lowest-paying employer of law enforcement officers in the county.

The school district disputes that it is the lowest paid. "To say officers are the "lowest paid" is not accurate, if you look at their hourly rate. Since School Police officers work fewer days each year, the hourly rate is a more apples-to-apples comparison," according to a district spokesperson.

"The grand jury report does not make a recommendation on which law enforcement agency is better for the school district. Whether it should be school police separate from Palm Beach Sheriff's Office, it does not make a recommendation it just sets out the pros and cons and lets the policymakers make that decision," Aronberg said.

The Palm Beach County School District issued a response to the findings. It said staff will review each recommendation in its entirety. 

It also said: "While the School District welcomes constructive feedback intended to help improve
safety measures, there are important factors that must be considered, particularly in regards to the reality of public education funding and the expenses associated with outsourced or increased services."

READ THE SCHOOL DISTRICT'S RESPONSE

The State Attorney said his office cannot force local government to adhere to the findings. But it will not hesitate to call another grand jury to reconvene to look at the progress.