Broward County Ponders Formation of School District Police Force

Broward County, Florida – In a move that could potentially reshape the security landscape of Broward County Public Schools, the school district is considering the establishment of its own police force. The discussion was initiated by the Broward County School Board in late July. The concept of a school district police force has been broached in the past, with previous boards drawing inspiration from existing school district police forces in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, according to Jaime Alberti, the school district Police Chief.

Earlier this year, the board was presented with four options, one of which was a hybrid model that combined school resource officers with officers from a newly formed school district police force. The other option was the creation of a standalone Broward Schools District Police Force. Research indicates the initial cost to implement such a force would be approximately $65 million. However, when initially presented with these options, the board decided against pursuing the idea.

Nevertheless, board member Torey Alston has recently advocated for reconsidering the establishment of a school district police force. Alston voiced his support, acknowledging the value of having their own police force and citing his own personal connection as the son of a deceased school resource officer. Alston firmly believes that it is past time for the board to explore this possibility.

However, not everyone shares Alston’s enthusiasm. School board member Allen Zeman expressed reservations, asserting that educators are not police officers and vice versa. He likened the idea of a school district police force to fitting a square peg into a round hole. Zeman also raised concerns about the responsiveness of a school district police force, arguing that the current model, which involves 200 school resource officers contracted by 13 municipalities, is more effective. Furthermore, Zeman stressed the need to allocate resources to the core mission of education and highlighted the significant time and financial investment required to establish a new police force.

Notwithstanding the divided opinions, proponents of a school district police force assert that with the right officers and comprehensive training, it could offer numerous advantages. These advantages include enhanced school safety and the development of trust-based relationships between officers and students. Curtis Lavarello, a former school district police force member, stated that officers have been successful in preventing school shootings by serving as mentors and gaining the trust of young people. Furthermore, Lavarello highlighted the benefits of consistency that a school district police department could bring, as officers would not rotate in and out as frequently as they do in city or county law enforcement agencies.

When recruiting officers, school districts often target individuals already working in local municipalities. However, the position of a school resource officer typically offers greater financial incentives. For instance, in Broward County, these officers can earn up to $103,000, whereas in Lee County, the pay is about $50,000, and in Orange County, it stands at approximately $60,000. Lavarello explained that the position has become more professionalized over time, attracting experienced law enforcement professionals.

Moving forward, the Broward County School Board intends to further explore the concept of a school district police force through workshops, soliciting input from the community, and seeking insights from the sheriff’s office and partner municipalities. Subsequent steps would involve conducting town halls and engaging in discussions during board meetings to gauge the community’s desire for a school district police force. This ongoing dialogue may ultimately shape the future of law enforcement in Broward County Public Schools.

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