MIDDLEBURG, Fla. – Clay County's sheriff briefed his school resource officers Thursday on how the Clay County Schools District's decision to form its own police department will impact them and the Sheriff's Office.
Sheriff Darryl Daniels previously criticized the school board's decision and was skeptical that it could have enough sworn officers hired and trained by August for the next school year. On Thursday, he questioned the school district's math when the superintendent said that creating its own police force of qualified officers was more fiscally responsible than paying the Sheriff's Office to provide the same level of protection.
Daniels said the school police department isn't a done deal and that he intends to present a plan to the School Board and County Commission that would offer a cheaper alternative, with the county paying about 30 percent of keeping deputies in the schools.
"I think the Clay County Sheriff’s Office can provide a better service. Here’s the reason why. The majority of us live in Clay County. The people that they’re recruiting probably won’t be coming from Clay County," he said.
Daniels told deputies currently working as SROs on Thursday he wouldn't blame them if they wanted to go to work for the school district so they could continue working with the students they have built relationships with. He also told the group there are plenty of opportunities for them to be reassigned to patrol or other duties with the Sheriff's Office, so their jobs are secure.
Daniels also didn't mince words on his authority to protect all the residents of the county, even after the school district's police force is in place.
"We have a duty to keep our children safe. If something is happening in or around one of those school campuses and there is a need to go be the hero, I'm expecting you to be the hero. You do whatever you have to do to keep our kids safe," Daniels said. "It doesn't matter to me who is in charge of what. If it's hitting the fan at a school, trust me, they'll be glad to see you."
Judith Holland, a retired school resource officer who was employed by the Sheriff’s Office for 15 years, doesn’t think this new plan is a bad idea because it will get officers into elementary schools and improve relationships with students.
"The Guardian program they have right now in the elementary schools, there’s no arrest power. They’re not able to communicate with parents. You need that communication with the parents and the kids. Those kids -- they will really enjoy the officer, the actual officer on the campus," Holland said.
In Holland's last years as an SRO in Middleburg schools, she worked for Lt. Kenneth Wagner, who the School Board has hired as a director and proposed chief of its Police Department.
Clay County Superintendent Addison Davis issued the following statement to News4Jax after the sheriff's news conference:
I am excited that the Sheriff is going to revisit the overall cost per officer charged to the school district. As stated this week, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office has been an outstanding partner in this work. I look forward to reviewing a potential new proposal along with revisiting the decertification of our Guardians, which was new to me. Without a doubt, having two individuals on our campuses sends a stronger message that safety is our greatest priority. My hope is not only to place School Resource Officers in every one of our schools, but to put Guardians directly next to them with the singular goal of protecting our most treasured assets...our children! The lessons learned from the Parkland tragedy clearly validated one was not enough—the more individuals we can have on our campuses that are trained, armed, and positioned to eliminate a threat to our students...the better.”