Officers placed in all Alachua County schools

Parents, teachers say change offers peace of mind in wake of Newtown tragedy

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Young students returning to school in Alachua County Thursday in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., were greeted by police officers or sheriff's deputies in their elementary schools. It's a move law enforcement officials and and parents say will help bring peace of mind to students, parents and teachers, but it will also cost a lot of money.

"I'm a lot more comfortable with an officer here because there's no telling what some people might do," grandparent Willie Johnson said.

Johnson was happy to see a police officer as he dropped his granddaughter off to kindergarten Thursday morning in northeast Gainesville, the first day back to class for students in Alachua County.

For now, each public school there will have either a police officer or sheriff's deputy on guard. Before, police were only posted at middle and high schools.

"So the decision was made internally by the chief and the command staff to staff the elementary schools temporarily until we can figure out if that is the answer," Gainesville police spokesman Ben Tobias said.

Police say having officers and deputies inside schools will make them safer, but also just the fact that there's a physical, marked police car out front will help deter crime.

Officers volunteered for the assignment, many have young children, and say this is personal. Officer Stephens watched over Stephen Foster Elementary School on Thursday, much to the relief of parents, teachers and the principal.

"It definitely helps with the sense of anxiety that comes when you have a situation like this," Stephen Foster Principal Jim Kuhn said. "If the children aren't safe, if the parents aren't safe, if the staff isn't safe, nothing else is important."

Johnson said the extra security is a relief in a world where anything can happen, and he hopes the officers stay at the schools.

"I wish they would keep 'em here in all the schools," he said.

For now, it's only temporary. Leaders say the sheriff, police chief and superintendent will meet again soon to make a more permanent decision. Between the city and the county, having law enforcement in elementary schools costs about $8,000 a day, which is nearly $2 million a year.

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