Security in schools has become a pressing topic of discussion across the country. Parents and administrators alike wonder if students are safe, and are investigating new programs to increase the safety of schools of all levels. The recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was far from the first tragedy of its type, but its impact has been pronounced. School districts are considering means to ensure no such event takes place within their jurisdiction in the future.
Considering off-duty police
Increasing the number of trained security staff on duty is one way to deal with risk through deterrence and faster, more appropriate, response. Finding personnel with the experience needed to defend school grounds in case of emergency may prove challenging. One group of individuals with this specific background is law enforcement personnel. Many districts around the country have therefore turned to off-duty police officers as potential sources of security.
The following are three examples of school systems considering working with off-duty police personnel in schools. Each region is facing its own unique set of circumstances based on its budget and existing security arrangements.
Sarasota County, Florida
Florida, as the state where the recent shooting took place, has a new law on the books that doesn't just encourage schools to arrange for extra protection – it's required. The Observer Media Group reported that this has raised questions in Sarasota County about how to protect elementary schools. The question of staffing is less pressing in middle and high schools in the county, where school resource officers serve as both mentors and security personnel.
Elementary schools in Sarasota County are employing off-duty police officers until the end of the present school year. The personnel, drawn from the county sheriff's office and two local police departments, are assigned to defend the 21 elementary schools which didn't have police personnel. The county is currently making budgetary arrangements for continued protection next school year and beyond.
Local news station KXII reported on a Denison, Texas, forum where school district personnel laid out their security vision for the area going forward. The team used to protect local premises involves two full-time security officers employed by the school and uses off-duty police personnel for additional assistance.
"Security and safety is an ongoing process," said Superintendent Henry Scott, according to KXII. "It's not just an event you do that you forget about, you have to continue that process looking to improve that process each year and I think we have."
In late February, the Tennessee state legislature took up debate of a bipartisan bill that would allow off-duty police personnel to become security staff members at schools in the state. The bill is designed to create a program that schools can opt into or out of and would apply to officers from law enforcement personnel from all local agencies. School systems would be able to determine whether the personnel would be in uniform or plain clothes.
Advantages of off-duty police
Schools aren't the only kinds of facilities where administrators have turned to off-duty police officers as members of the security team. These highly trained personnel bring knowledge and experience, honed on the job. From everyday security to one-off roles such as event oversight or traffic control, off-duty law enforcement officers can prove of great use to organizations across the country.
When administrators work with off-duty police officers through experienced third-party agencies, they gain all of the benefits without the complications. Potentially time-consuming tasks such payroll, taxes and risk mitigation through adequate insurance coverage for the personnel can be handled centrally. This simplicity leaves employers with fewer headaches as they gain experienced and effective off-duty police personnel. Whether as support personnel or primary security, in uniform or civilian clothes, off-duty law enforcement officers can play an essential role.