MANATEE -- Law enforcement agencies Monday reported a first day of school in Manatee County without any major hiccups.
"It was mostly a smooth morning," said Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski shortly after noon. "We've been planning extra officers at all the schools in the city for some time, so officers are either at the school or in the vicinity of the school, looking at traffic and making themselves visible so the parents and the kids feel safe."
In addition, Radzilowski said the agency has a program requiring officers to become familiar with all the schools in their assigned zone. The department divides the city into six zones.
The chief said officers are required to visit their school throughout the day or once a week to learn the school's building layout and meet staff.
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"Even though each school has an SRO (school resource officer), you never know when something is going to happen," Radzilowski said. "It's just things we do to make sure we are prepared in case an emergency develops, so that officers aren't walking in blind."
The Bradenton Police Department's Twitter account shared a graphic early Monday morning detailing when motorists should stop for school buses.
As for safety tips, Radzilowski stressed the importance of parents teaching their children the route home.
"We always end up with
two or three elementary school kids lost every week because they find a new friend at school and then they get on the bus with them as opposed to getting on their own bus," he said, adding that this usually happens the first and second weeks of school.
"It happens every year. God bless them but... parents need to reinforce to their kids that they just can't go to Johnny's house."
Manatee County Sheriff's Office spokesman Dave Bristow said the day went as deputies expected.
"No major problems other than traffic," he said. "That happens every year because so many parents want to drop their children off the first day."
Bristow said the Sheriff's Office had every available person working on the first day of school, including the Traffic Unit and zoned deputies who weren't on call.
"If their children walk to school, we want children to walk in groups. There's always safety in numbers -- so that's probably the biggest thing," he said in reference to how parents can help keep their children safe. "If they're on a bicycle, they need to adhere to all the rules of riding a bike. If you have to cross streets, try to use crossings where there are crossing guards."
Over in Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island, Police Chief William Tokajer reported a very good day, with extra officers welcoming children at Anna Maria Elementary School.
"It was great, I enjoyed it," he said. "I enjoy going out and meeting the kids on their first day and saying hello." The chief added that Holmes Beach officers also monitored traffic in the city, which recently lowered the speed limit to 25 mph from Gulf Drive and Manatee Avenue to Gulf Drive and Marina Drive to enhance the safety of children, pedestrians and bicyclists.
Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler said there were no issues Monday in the city of Palmetto.
"The first week of school, we always have not only our SROs there, but extra people," he said. "Basically our whole Patrol Division is around the schools in the morning and the afternoon. We're there to make sure that things go smoothly."
Tyler said officers were there to interact with parents and make sure they know where they can drop off their children.He also had some advice for parents this week.
"I would just say be patient, leave plenty of time to account for the additional traffic and just be patient," he said. "Also, talk to your kids about communication -- make sure your children have a way to get a hold of you should they need you. Have a dialogue about general safety."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.