Bradford County has had volunteer special deputies in schools for years

Sheriff wants to 'make damn sure' an attack never happens in Bradford

By Chris Parenteau - Reporter

BRADFORD COUNTY, Fla. - One of the ideas being floated to improve school safety in the wake of a deadly mass shooting at a South Florida high school is for some school personnel to be trained to carry weapons and respond to an active shooter.

Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith said during a news conference last week that his county has had a similar program in place for years.

The news conference was called by Rep. Ted Yoho after a school safety discussion he hosted with law enforcement leaders and school officials, seeking feedback on Gov. Rick Scott’s $500 million school safety plan.

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Smith explained to News4Jax on Monday that his county has had special deputies in place in schools to supplement the school resource officers. He said they are volunteers, not school employees.

Some are former military or former law enforcement officers. In total, there are about a dozen who spend time in different schools in Bradford County, Smith said.

Smith said Bradford County fits the small, rural county bill so well that leaders have to find creative ways to do things, which prompted the idea of volunteers serving as special deputies in schools. 

“A lot of times the teachers don’t know, but the school superintendent does,” Smith said. “And we are there to offer the assistance as the last line of defense. They are not there to handle the everyday call, take home the suspended student. They are not there for that. They are there as a protection.”

In Bradford County, many of the schools are older, from a time when open campuses were the typical design. Smith said that’s part of the reason they have both special deputies and school resource officers.

“Fences are for good guys. Locked doors are for good guys. Gun control is for good guys,” Smith said. “We need to be working on what we are going to be doing about the bad guy. What can we do to intervene?”

Smith said the special deputies go through strict background checks and training just like regular deputies. They are able to carry firearms, but can only make an arrest in a couple of situations. 

He said there are some who the teachers know are special deputies but others they don’t. And so far, there has never been a school incident where they had to use their powers.

“Nobody ever wants that to occur on their watch,” Smith said. “And I’m going to do everything in my power to make damn sure it doesn’t happen in Bradford County.”

Smith said they are always accepting requests from people who want to volunteer as special deputies in schools. He said if anyone wants to volunteer, they can contact the Sheriff’s Office and go through the background check process to see if everything is a fit for the agency.

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