Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight is reminding the community and its students about the importance of school safety and urging officials to consider security solutions for campuses.
In the days following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the sheriff’s office has received several reports related to schools throughout Sarasota County. Most of the reports include general information and tips about particular students and campuses however, none of the information received has articulated a credible threat to any school in our community. Officials believe the steady increase in information is due to a heightened awareness following the Parkland incident which garnered international media attention.
Officials are using this opportunity to educate students and parents about safety practices and how to best communicate with law enforcement. Every report received by the sheriff’s office is fully investigated and when it pertains to Sarasota County Schools, is communicated to school officials. School Resource deputies are made available to every middle and high school in Sarasota County and as such, provide an added level of security and presence to those campuses. Each School Resource Deputy (SRD) goes through more than 100 hours of annual training on topics including cyber bullying, gangs, campus safety, active shooter scenarios, and more. All law enforcement members of the sheriff’s office are also trained in crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, comprised of nearly 1,000 members, has been nationally recognized for its school resource program and specialized training. The agency continues to train in best practices which includes responding to major and mass casualty incidents.
While the sheriff’s office continues to train its members and educate students, Sheriff Tom Knight strongly believes more can be done to protect our children. “We have been looking at opportunities over the last two years to help school officials develop a practical and achievable safety plan for the district,” said Sheriff Knight. “My recommendation is for the school to consider implementing a quasi-school security program that puts retired law enforcement and military veterans on Sarasota County campuses. Members would be contracted through the schools however, our agency will be made available to put them through the proper training. I have spoken with the superintendent who agrees this can be a win-win for everyone.”
Through the quasi-school security program, the sheriff’s office would provide specialized training on topics including firearms, defensive tactics and active shooter scenarios. Selection and hiring would be facilitated through Sarasota County Schools and as such, adoption of the program would be specific to each campus. The added security would supplement the sheriff’s office school resource program and allow for retired first responders to stay actively engaged in their communities.
“This is not an overnight solution but it’s a good place to start,” said Sheriff Knight. “Many of these veterans have basic training, have managed major incidents and have knowledge of weaponry and tactics. More often than not, these retirees are looking for a way to care for the children in their community and this program is a sustainable solution. What is needed to get this off the ground is legislative change to F.S.S. 790 dealing with concealed weapons on school campuses. If our lawmakers are willing to make the proper changes for the safety of Florida students, I will support their decision and stand ready to take action.”
Students, parents, and community members should remember to always contact law enforcement if they see or hear something suspicious. The sheriff’s office can be reached via our non-emergency line at 941.316.1201 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The public can also submit an anonymous tip via Crime Stoppers of Sarasota County by dialing 941.366.TIPS or visiting www.SarasotaCrimeStoppers.com.