More school resource officers should be in place as soon as next week, as law enforcement leaders work with the Manatee County School District to increase security after local schools began getting threats following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Superintendent Diana Greene met Monday with Sheriff Rick Wells and police chiefs Melanie Bevan (Bradenton), Scott Tyler (Palmetto), William Tokajer (Holmes Beach), Sam Speciale (Bradenton Beach) and Peter Cumming (Longboat Key) to discuss a time-frame and other details to get additional officers in place.
All agreed on one thing: The goal is to have these additional officers in place by Monday, according to school district spokesman Michael Barber.
This meeting follows the School Board of Manatee County’s closed executive session on Friday to discuss safety and security, in which the board decided that 34 more school resource officers needed to be added immediately. The additional officers will ensure that each elementary school has its own officer and adds a second officer to high schools.
Because of the urgency to get the additional officers in schools, the officers filling these roles will likely be working an off-duty detail for the remainder of the school year, according to Wells and Tyler.
“These deputies are there to provide safety while their children are in school,” Wells said, addressing parents’ concerns. “We will continue to have increased patrols around schools until then.”
Budget decisions in ’19
Looking forward to the next school year, the sheriff’s office and police departments will look to the county and cities to budget for the additional officers’ positions.
Most of the additional school resource officers will fall in the sheriff’s office and Bradenton police jurisdictions, with Palmetto police only needing to add one additional officer so that the high school has two. In recent years, elementary schools in Bradenton and the county have had to share a school resource officer.
“We do consider ourselves fortunate that we have one dedicated officer to each of our schools,” Tyler said.
The Manatee school board also plans to address funding for the additional resource officers in its regular meeting Tuesday night.
All local enforcement officers regularly train for active shooter situations, but additional training will be provided to new school resource officers so they understand how to perform the necessary duties, according to Wells.
But while the sheriff’s office and the Bradenton and Palmetto police departments say they practice various scenarios during active shooter training — including a solo response — the sheriff’s office’s general orders still require deputies to wait for back-up.
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office has come under scrutiny for their response to the Stoneman Douglas shooting, after Sheriff Scott Israel announced that the school’s resource officer, deputy Scot Peterson, never went into the building where the shooting took place. The deputy resigned after being suspended without pay when surveillance video footage revealed Peterson had stood outside the building for at least four minutes during the shooting, which lasted about six minutes.
Protocol for solo deputies
Despite it being protocol, Wells told the Bradenton Herald, two days after the Stoneman Douglas shooting, that he would not expect a deputy to idly wait outside a school while a shooting was underway.
“We will be looking at changing that general order,” Wells said Monday.
He plans to address that Tuesday in a discussion planned with his administration team and SWAT commander. And, since 2010, active shooter training has consistently included one-man scenarios, Wells added, a change that has been documented.
With the planned changes to the general orders, Wells plans additional training to ensure deputies are prepared to respond to an active shooter alone, should the need ever arise.
As recent as November, the Bradenton police department went through active shooter training, according to spokesman Lt. Brian Thiers, which included a single officer response scenario.
In Palmetto, the police department’s general orders are very vague, according to Tyler, but it does not prohibit an officer from entering alone. It is a scenario Palmetto police also practice.
“We realize that an SRO might be the only officer on scene for about five minutes,” Tyler said. “Even before this happened at Parkland we were training for that.”