Putnam County to train, deputize school personnel for active shooter

Sheriff, superintendent announce new school safety program

By Destiny McKeiver - Multi-media journalist, Francine Frazier - Senior web editor

PALATKA, Fla. - Some personnel in Putnam County public schools could soon be trained and deputized to respond if an active shooter attacks their school.

On Wednesday, Sheriff Gator DeLoach and Superintendent Dr. Rick Surrency announced the program called STAR, which stands for the Sheriff's Trained Armed Response program. 

In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, both believe it's necessary to have an immediate response if the unthinkable happens in their county. Similar discussions regarding how to best protect schools have taken place in districts across the country following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

"Let me say, before I begin with my remarks, that I am personally angered that we're having this conversation today," DeLoach said.

UNCUT: Putnam County sheriff, superintendent announce school safety program

After extensive discussions, Surrency said, he and DeLoach are considering arming certain personnel as special deputies. The plan would involve people who work in the schools, who would go through extensive training, psychological screenings, drug screenings and background checks.

"Faculty and staff selected will be volunteers," DeLoach said. "They will be appointed by the sheriff as volunteer special deputies with the limited purpose of providing security on Putnam County School District properties during an active assailant incident, when an armed assailant is posing an immediate threat."

Their weapons would be concealed to students and fellow staff members.

"These individuals would only participate as volunteers, and their status as special deputies would only be known to the sheriff and myself," Surrency said.

They clarified that the personnel who are a part of the program would not act as sheriff's deputies while off-campus -- only on-campus if there was an active shooter situation. 

DeLoach cited a study by the Department of Justice done between 2000 and 2013, which found there were over 160 active shooter incidents in the United States, and 70 percent of the incidents occurred in a place of commerce or educational setting.

"One hundred seven of these incidents ended before police arrived to engage the shooter," DeLoach said. "In 25 of the 107 incidents, the shooter fled before law enforcement arrived."

DeLoach said last week that the changes are already under development and will “take place in short order," but did not give an exact date.

The sheriff and superintendent have not said what the cost of the new program will be, but DeLoach said no amount of money is too much to ensure the safety of the county's children.

They also didn't release on other specifics of the plan, such as how many personnel will be armed and where the firearms will be stored.

Some Putnam County parents agreed the plan is an effective approach.

"I actually feel really good about the PCSC, as a whole, because they do take the safety measures they need to take," parent Julene Everett said. 

Others said otherwise.

"A gun situation and bringing another gun into the situation is not going to fix the situation," said another parent who attended the news conference.

Parents will be able to give input with the new policy at the next school board meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 6.

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