NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. - Less than a week after a community meeting on school safety prompted by a massacre at a South Florida high school, the Neptune Beach Police Department is already putting some new ideas into practice.
Two Neptune Beach police officers began new assignments Monday as safety liaisons for three of the community’s schools: Fletcher High School, Neptune Beach Elementary School and Beaches Chapel K-12.
They’ll visit each school each day and meet with administrators and school resource officers, when available. They’ll also support and assist Duval County School Board Police with events, drills and training.
Police Chief Richard Pike’s department came up with the idea for the safety liaisons during last week's community meeting and didn’t want to waste any time getting started.
“We thought this is something we needed to get going right away,” Pike said. “I don’t want to spend three months on it or six weeks or whatever trying to plan it, so we worked hard at it. We got going. We’ve already met with all three principals of the schools today for the first day.”
Pike said the new assignments will not take away from the duties of the 18 sworn officers at the Neptune Beach Police Department. He said they will still have everything covered.
Vivian Watson, the principal at Beaches Chapel, not only applauded the plan but also the fact that it was implemented so quickly.
“It gives us extra security on campus, so now we have a police officer liaison who we can call and will touch base with me every day while he’s on campus. We feel a lot safer having this,” Watson said. “They thought about it last week, and this week it’s already starting, so I love the pro-activeness of this.”
Pike said that although he didn’t want to wait to implement the changes, his department will still apply for any grants that might give them additional funding for protecting schools.
Duval County Public Schools Fletcher High and Fletcher Middle have at least one school resource officer each. According to the NBPD, those SROs try to make rounds to elementary schools, but that doesn’t happen as often as they would like.
Watson said that Beaches Chapel school could hire an SRO, but she would want someone who has a weapon, so it would have to be an off-duty officer, not a security guard. Watson said the cost would be $65 an hour, which her school can’t afford, making the new safety liaison a welcome addition.
Watson said her school is always looking for ways to improve safety and security, like adding more gates throughout campus to keep it more secure. They also recently changed the locks so they automatically lock on the inside once the door is closed and the codes are changed often on any door that has a keypad.
The Neptune Beach school safety plan also includes other elements, like an officer riding behind the Fletcher High School football team to away games and guarding the locker room, and an officer who directs traffic at Neptune Beach Elementary School each morning and afternoon.
Pike said his department will continue to make updates and changes when needed to school security, infrastructure, training and partnerships.
People with and without children told News4Jax that they like the safety liaison and other security plan changes, saying that safer schools means a safer community.
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