Clay County superintendent race brings school police force debate back to forefront

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – The race for Clay County School Superintendent has resurfaced a recurring issue — the issue of the school district having its own police force and a previously strained relationship with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.

Challenger and former Superintendent Charlie Van Zant said he wants the school district to improve its relationship with the Sheriff’s Office while current Superintendent David Broskie said student safety has improved since the school police force was formed last year.

Prior to the school board setting up its own police force, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office handled on-campus security.

Charlie Van Zant has been campaigning door-to-door and digitally. In one of his online ads, he says he “will fight to have Clay County Sheriff’s Office protecting our schools!”

That has been a sensitive subject in Clay County after the board voted to set up its own police force following a public feud with Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels.

“I know they’re safer with SWAT, cyber crimes, investigations. It makes no sense to have a separate 45 person department without even jurisdiction out in the public,” Van Zant said. “They can go a thousand feet off-campus to break up a fight and that’s it. They can’t pursue anyone in these fancy police cars they bought them. None of it makes any sense.”

Police cruisers are one issue Van Zant wants to review as he looks at budgets, thinking things like golf carts on campus may be more practical and economical than Dodge Chargers.

Current interim superintendent David Broskie, who is also running for superintendent, has a much different take.

“They act as a deterrent for schools,” Broskie said, referencing the police vehicles. “They’re a visible symbol that you need not come there. Police are going to protect that school. In addition, we actually arrest people and bring them to jail in those vehicles.”

Broskie said the old deal with the Sheriff’s Office cost the district $1.2 million more than the current set up.

There have been some high-profile cases where the district’s police department responded, like a scare last September at an Oakleaf Football game when a practical joke contributed to a panic that there may have been a shooting. Broskie feels schools are more secure now.

“We had an issue come up earlier on in the year where a student out at Argyle came up missing,” he said. “Parents reported, we dispatched 19 Clay County School Police officers to search for the individual. And we’re blessed that individual was found.”

The district also has a deal with Orange Park and Green Cove police departments which still help with day-to-day security.

There is a third candidate in this race, Ann Wiggins. She shared the following statement on the school district police department:

“I come from a family deeply involved in law enforcement. My father was an NYPD cop, my daughter had a career as an FBI Special Agent, and I have two grandsons who are currently deputies. As Superintendent, I will strive to bring all parties to the table to work together and identify what is working and what could be improved upon with our current safety and security protocols. I am deeply appreciate of the Orange Park and Green Cove Springs Police Departments for their continued support of our schools throughout this entire process.

“Clay County students and staff deserve the best protection, no matter the cost. I believe the School District Police Department provides parents a sense of security for their students when they send them off to school each day. For those reasons, I will continue to support the best options for our students.”

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