Keeping students safe at school

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - The Palm Beach County School District is addressing fears that it won’t meet the August deadline requiring every school to have at least one officer.

During a sit-down with WPTV's Andrew Ruiz the superintendent said the district is looking at every option and they’re on track to meet the deadline.

“Do you think we’re going to make it? And what happens if we don’t make it?" Ruiz asked.

“We’ll definitely be covered at every school," Dr. Donald Fennoy said. "Will it be with all school police officers, we’re not quite sure."

75 officers need to be hired by the start of school. If the district is unable to, Fennoy says local municipalities will be pitching in on an overtime basis; this is so they can be phased out when additional officers are hired.

The district recently turned down the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office’s offer to supply them with deputies needed, but it was based on a year contract. The district rejected their offer because of the "high cost" and year-long contract associated with itl.

The superintendent and new recruits told Ruiz it’s probably for the best.

"My skill-set is working with the kids," Officer Bob Thomas said. "It should be something they want to do." Thomas returned from retirement because he missed the kids and recently served at a middle school in southern Palm Beach County.

"It’s more than just providing security, it's about connecting with the kids," Thomas said. "I run into kids. I see them with their kids and they remember me, and I remember them."

James Feeney, a former Captain with the Jupiter Police Department says by being a SRO, he doesn't "move around a lot," which allows for him to connect with the kids on a personal level.

“With Jupiter Police, you moved around a lot, changed zones,” Feeney said.

So what about pay?

First year deputies with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office earn $25.58/hr, about $0.50 cents more than school resource officers, but the job is year round.

SROs don't work holidays, weekends, nights or summers, which these recruits said is a plus. "You get to spend more time with your family," Thomas said.

The quality of officers remains the same. They’re all sworn, trained to handle active shooters and many have specializations from their previous experiences with other agencies. 

Brad Fitzer is a former police officer and firefighter who also served as a member of the SWAT Team. "I understand active incidents and those hostile austere environments and how they can go from zero to 100 in seconds."

Fitzer had applied for an officer position before the Parkland shooting in February, but says the tragedy "made me less patient with the process because I felt I needed to start now."
 

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