Neither the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office nor the School District will wait any longer for the state or federal governments to come up with ways to better protect schools and their students. Starting this week, every public school in the county is being equipped with at least one School Resource Deputy.
“While we wait for our legislators in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., to make changes, we are acting here in St. Lucie County,” said Sheriff Ken J. Mascara. “As of [Monday], we have placed a School Resource Deputy at all public elementary schools in St. Lucie County.”
Previously, the elementary schools were covered part time with a traveling School Resource Deputy. The agency’s 27 school deputies were assigned to the K-8, middle and high schools.
In the wake of the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., last month, the Sheriff’s Office has been working with the St. Lucie County School District to find ways to increase security. One of the challenges, Sheriff Mascara had previously told St. Lucie Voice, was the lack of funding for School Resource Deputies.
At the time, he pointed out that 19 school campuses – all elementary schools – were without a full-time School Resource Deputy.
But finding the funds needed to address that shortage would continue to be a challenge. Since the recession, the School District cut funding for School Resource Deputies. The district kicks in about $400,000 while the Sheriff’s Office – via the County Commission – funds a little more than $3 million.
“Over the last week, we have reorganized our entire agency to reallocate resources and personnel and make this immediate change to improve the safety and security of our schools,” Sheriff Mascara said Monday. “Their number one priority is keeping our children safe.”
The reorganization brings the total of School Resource Deputies to 38.
The beefed-up security is expected to remain in place through the end of this school year, the sheriff said. If the state or feds increase funding for School Resource Deputies, it’s possible the higher staff level could become permanent.
“We are hopeful that the work being done in Tallahassee right now will allow us to make this a permanent solution and encourage our legislators to provide the funding needed to do so,” Mascara said.
St. Lucie Schools Superintendent E. Wayne Gent commended the proactive measures of added safety by the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office in lieu of waiting for legislative action. “Having the extra support benefits our ability to deter negative influences on campus, and that’s not all. School Resources Officers develop positive relationships with students and serve as mentors to many. Their trusted presence and availability also opens the door for reporting and preventing negative behaviors.”