CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – Clay County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis hopes to allay the fears of some in the community who have voiced opposition to the district's decision to create its own police force.
The move came in the wake of the Parkland school massacre last year as districts around the state grappled with the need to improve student safety.
The Clay County School Board voted 4-1 Tuesday morning to move forward with its decision to form a school district police department, despite questions from parents and Clay County's sheriff on whether it can have certified officers in place by the beginning of the next school year.
Davis appointed two men with a history of law enforcement work in the county to build the force. Lt. Kenneth Wagner, a 20-year veteran of the Clay County Sheriff's Office, will lead the department, and former Sheriff Rick Beseler will act as a consultant as the department is created.
“When you get a chance to hire an individual that’s been within Clay County for the last 20 years and has led the resource office for the last seven -- also (Sheriff) Darryl Daniels' fingerprints are all over this, because when he came in, he selected this individual to lead the work as well -- I think it creates comfort in the community,” Davis told Bruce Hamilton on The Morning Show. “However, as the CEO, you have to understand that this decision was made by the school board. And my job as the CEO is to implement this plan.”
During a very acrimonious Clay County School Board meeting this week, some vocal parents openly worried the board was moving too quickly and would hire people who weren't qualified. In fact, they said they're worried the district will hire what they referred to as “mall cops.”
Davis assured those parents that he understands their concerns and will do nothing to compromise student safety.
“What we are trying to do is make certain that we put up a well-organized police department that is focused on visibility, prevention, enforcement and community engagement,” Davis said. “We will seek to hire highly qualified individuals that pass all the requirements and that have all of the elements that we desire to have in reference to connecting with kids and also preventing any undesired behaviors within our schools.”
Setting up the department, which will include 47 staffers, is expected to cost about $6 million. The budget for the second year is projected to be about $4 million.
The department positions will include:
- 36 school resource officers
- 3 relief school resource officers
- 1 detective
- 4 sergeants
- 2 lieutenants
- 1 chief
“We will never compromise. As I said, I have two children in the school district. While I don’t get a chance to vote and make a decision in this area, my job is to stand up and implement,” Davis said. “I will stand up diligently and tirelessly with law enforcement agencies to make sure we have the right personnel, the right policies, in order to protect our students.”
The next step in the process is for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to sign off on the project. That agency will weigh in within six to eight weeks.
Sheriff Daniels will meet with School Resource Officers on Thursday to talk about the new plans being implemented within area schools and how it affects their current roles.