ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Starting this fall, there will be a law enforcement officer stationed in all 46 of St. John’s County’s schools, including two schools that will open for the first time in August.
The St. Johns County School District on Tuesday announced an expanded partnership with the Sheriff’s Office as part of Sheriff Robert Hardwick’s pledge to keep the county’s school campuses safe and secure.
It’s something that Hardwick told News4Jax is a priority for public safety.
The Sheriff’s Office Youth Resource Division is made up of 63 total officers including one captain, one lieutenant, five sergeants, five corporals, and 51 deputies, according to figures provided by a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson.
The SJCSD proudly partners with the SJC Sheriff's Department to place a Resource Officer at every SJCSD school and Sheriff Rob Hardwick's pledge to keep SJCSD schools safe. @SJSOPIO pic.twitter.com/seEI3nmWic— SJC School District (@SJCSD) July 13, 2021
Up until this last school year, 10 of the district’s schools had security workers trained under Florida’s Guardian program, which provides “armed personnel who aid in the prevention or abatement of active assailant incidents on school premises.”
Under the new plan, those security workers will be replaced by 10 sheriff’s deputies beginning this fall.
Hardwick said the effort is aimed at furthering the Sheriff’s Office’s goal of providing security to the county’s schools, but it also serves an added benefit of fostering positive relationships between law enforcement officers and young students.
“It’s a good time for us to start that relationship at a young age,” Sheriff Hardwick told News4Jax in a Tuesday interview. “So, with every single school, we keep that continuity with the children actually knowing that a deputy sheriff in this uniform is a friend.”
Paul Abbatinozzi, senior director for school services for the school district, said resource officers aren’t just placed in schools to react to violence or arrest students involved in criminal activity—they’re also on hand to build a rapport with youth.
“There is just a remarkable, remarkable value in the relationship that those law enforcement officers build with those students and their families,” Abbatinozzi told News4JAx. “They’re an invaluable resource with regards to just that relationship building. They’re part of the culture and the climate of our schools. And on the safety and security side, I mean, I think that explains itself.”
With the dissolution of the district’s contract with the Guardian Program and the expansion of the statewide Safe Schools Act, the sheriff said these resource officers will have a very modest impact on the agency’s and school district budgets.
Only Ketterlinus Elementary School and R.B. Hunt Elementary School have resource officers provided through the district’s contract with the St. Augustine Police Department, the rest will come from the Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff said the presence of law enforcement officers in every school also reinforces the fact that they too are members of the community they have pledged to serve and protect.
“I think a lot of these, you know, kids in school forget that we have kids too that attend the same schools they go to,” he said. “So this community is our community. I mean we live in this community, we grew up in this community.”