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Compromise Over School Deputies in Flagler, But Look Beyond False Security of “Hardening”

| May 3, 2018

school safety flagler

Not far apart. (© FlaglerLive)

School districts and sheriff’s offices across the state have been turned against each other by the Legislature’s overreaction to the Parkland school massacre. Like the nation after 9/11, Florida after Parkland thinks our best way to security is more force, more fear, more spying, but nothing to change a culture that more strictly regulates lawn-mowing than guns.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive So last Tuesday’s confrontation between Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly and the School Board, or what turned into a confrontation, wasn’t either side’s doing. They were put in that position by lawmakers who are forcing them to turn schools into armed camps while providing less than half the necessary dollars. They’re being manipulated, and local budgets, local taxpayers, are paying the price.

Schools are now required to have at least one cop or one armed person on campus at all times. Flagler wisely dispensed with arming staffers or having their own police department. They’re sticking with sheriff’s deputies. The question is how many. The plan is to increase the number of deputies from six to 13, including two supervisors, and including two deputies at each of the district’s two high schools. That comes to $1.9 million to be split between the district and the sheriff. The district is short at least $88,000.

That’s what led to last Tuesday’s difficult encounter between the board and the sheriff, who thinks–unfairly–that the board is being “ridiculous” to piddle over $88,000. Board members Andy Dance and Colleen Conklin and even Maria Barbosa questioned him hard, but fairly and necessarily. Maybe it’s not what this justly popular sheriff is used to but that’s what we expect of our board members, even if they veer from what the administration may have worked out with the sheriff. Ultimately, it’s the board’s decision, not the administration’s. (Where was that school board when it came to questioning the Social Sentinel spying contract?)


Dance may have been wrong to question why there should be two supervisors for school deputies instead of one–not wrong to ask the question as much as wrong to imply that the redundancy is unnecessary: there’s nothing worse than a lack of supervision in cops’ ranks, the more so when cops interact with children. The question he should be asking, the question no one is asking, is: now that cops are becoming so ubiquitous in schools, who is also supervising cops from the schools’ end? If they’re answerable exclusively to the sheriff, that too is a problem. (American troops deployed abroad answer to their commanders. But they also answer to local laws. School campuses should be no different.)

Conklin for her part was incorrect (or at least unclear, and I repeated the error in a previous version of this piece) when she said that additional mental health services must be paid for out of the same pot. The Legislature’s “Safe Schools” appropriation of $97.5 million must be used “exclusively for hiring or contracting for school resource officers,” the law reads. Separate pots fund “hardening” ($99 million statewide) and mental health ($69 million). Shifting money was permissible under the old Safe Schools formula. Conklin’s reading of the law is that not all Safe Schools dollars are to be invariably allocated to deputies: only the new allocation is restricted. And in fact the Department of Education’s previous interpretation of Safe Schools dollars lists resource deputies as only one of a series of allowable spending. The question is whether that interpretation still holds in this new world.

But Staly gave back as good as he got. That’s what we expect of him, too. What we don’t want is for either side to limp or submit to an agreement.  So far neither has, which is to their credit–and which is just why a compromise that neither side entirely likes is the more workable solution.

On Wednesday, Staly told me that–after opposing the long-standing arrangement for a few weeks–he would accept Palm Coast continuing to include in its contract with the sheriff one full position for a school resource deputy. That’s a commitment that, thanks to the city council, Palm Coast is not willing to abandon. (And it raises the question: why aren’t Flagler Beach and Bunnell willing to do their proportionate share, however small? These days, every penny counts. So come on, Chairman Rick Belhumeur and Mayor Catherine Robinson.) That cost had not been part of the negotiations with the school board. It means the school board has $55,000 more to work with, reducing its “deficit” to $33,000. The Sheriff is also willing to work out an arrangement involving overtime that may bring down the cost even more.

The school board could cut costs further by sticking with one deputy at Matanzas High School. That’s what it has there now. Staly considers that a mistake and says he will put his opposition in writing, so that if something ever happens there, he can point to his letter before the school board points a finger at him. But this week and last Staly touted to the Palm Coast council how his cops’ response time has fallen impressively into the 4-minute range, an excellent achievement: that means deputies can respond to a school faster than they can cross certain campuses from one end to another. That must count for something more than boasts. Make that work to the school resource deputies’ advantage, and keep the Matanzas force at one. That’s another $55,000 saving. And it brings both sides to an immediate agreement, enabling the negotiations to end well and the hiring to begin in time for the sheriff to have his new deputies trained and ready for redeployment by the beginning of school.

Beyond that, the sheriff through the state sheriffs’ association and the school board through its own can start lobbying lawmakers to put better sense and more dollars behind their security requirements. But more cops ultimately aren’t the answer. The resolution discussed above is a matter of pragmatism within laws that must be followed. But if laws are to be more reasonably amended, a broader, cultural issue must be confronted.  

Even before Parkland, we did not have a lack of security in schools. We did not have a lack of hardening. Nor a lack of vigilance. If anything, we have all three in excess. Entering Buddy Taylor Middle School a few weeks ago was no different than entering the Flagler County jail. The procedure was the same. Getting past entrance metallurgy was nearly the same. We’re doing an excellent job of turning schools into bunkers, with more psychological than actual security: students are as vulnerable as ever on sports fields, at bus stops or on buses, on field trips, on their way in or out of neighborhood schools. Mass murderers aren’t deterred by “hardening.” And it’s not just school shootings we should be protecting against, but all mass shootings.

But we’re doing nothing about what causes it all, what makes us the only western country that has words such as mass shootings in its everyday lexicon. And I don’t mean mental health. The United States has no more and no less nutcases than Germany or Sweden. But it has incomparably more school shootings and street carnage than either. It’s not that we have too many guns, either. Germans, Swedes and Swiss have plenty of them too. It’s that we worship them more than we do our security. We have more trigger locks on our elementary school doors than we do on handguns. We are quicker to arrest and demonize a hapless middle schooler who makes a joke about guns than we ever are about the more stupid and criminal gun owner who lets his weapons be stolen out of his unlocked car, and who should be arrested and charged with a felony for it. Instead, he’s branded a victim. In that regard, yes: we all need better mental health.

Schools are like islands of health besieged by a virus, but we refuse to develop a vaccine. Active-shooter drills have become as grim a ritual as the nuclear bombing drills of the 1950s. But we continue to encourage the arms race, hardening schools while letting the country at large build its arsenal without limits behind a perverted Second Amendment. No one wants it abolished. But it would help to read it less like illiterate vigilantes overcompensating for something and more like reasonable human beings. The arms race isn’t necessarily making campuses safer. It’s heightening the risk of carnage.Instead of eliminating AR-15’s from our lives, we’re now adding AR-15’s to campus closets as a matter of routine. It’s insanity normalized.

Staly is fond of saying that we can never arrest our way out of problems like domestic violence or the opioid crisis. He’s right. Along the same lines, we will never fortress our way past mass shootings. Putting so much attention on security and hardening (if not on mental health) is actually irresponsible when it becomes an end in itself, a perfect tough-act decoy to deflect from the root of the problem. It gives the murderers a pass until they start shooting. By then shooting back may be more likely, but it’s too late. Adding cops everywhere is popping aspirin for a cancer. It’ll do wonder for the headaches of everyday discipline. It won’t keep our children from falling to the next mass shooter’s bullets.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.

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10 Responses for “Compromise Over School Deputies in Flagler, But Look Beyond False Security of “Hardening””

  1. Mark says:

    “Along the same lines, we will never fortress our way past mass shootings.” You will also never stop “mass” killings by enacting more useless gun control measures. “Mass murderers aren’t deterred by “hardening.”” What facts support this delusional thought?

  2. Layla says:

    Why isn’t anybody asking Paul Renner or Travis Hutson to come up with the difference? This was their legislation. Why are they being left out of this discussion?

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Actually the sheriff has had discussions with Renner about changing the funding formula for so-called “Safe Schools” money that penalizes counties like Flagler, which have a lower crime rate, by allocating fewer dollars. Staly asked the school board on Tuesday to join him to up the pressure on legislators to change the formula, but larger cities are resisting.

  3. Chris A Pickett says:

    The first step should be keeping people off of school grounds that have no Official business there, e.g. students who have graduated or otherwise removed dropping in to visit.

  4. Ben Hogarth says:

    It is a great tragedy that we as a society still have not learned from our past transgressions and those of countless ancestors. Crime is, has been, and always will be about one thing – opportunity. If you lockdown the schools, but fail to reverse the proliferation of assault weapons, criminals will find other areas of opportunity and targets of opportunity. To spend countless tax dollars to reinforce one location but still leave countless places unsecured is only serving to relocate the crime – including mass murder.

    It doesn’t take a genius to understand this concept, but it is disheartening just how uncommon this sensibility is. I pray for our society and our nation – including Flagler who seems to stand out in all the wrong ways.

  5. Ben Hogarth says:

    And in response to the comments regarding the funding formula – I can tell you that the State will defer to one based on population rather than crime rate if you ask them to change it… which won’t have the desired effect the people of Flagler want. Even if you argue in favor of funding based on number of schools, you will end up with a similar disparity. It would be difficult to defend a formula that diverts from these traditional approaches and i can’t think of an argument that would succeed. Saving the most amount of lives will always take precedent – so Flagler would be better served with creative local solutions. Besides, as I said in my other comment – crime is about opportunity and the additional armed officers will simply divert crime and these attacks to other areas of opportunity.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Staly said it all when he called $88K piddly! This man has no regard for our tax dollars. He has no business being in public office. He is rude, and out of touch. He is a legend in his own mind. He couldn’t make it anywhere else other than Flagler County until he back stabbed the former Sheriff.

    Dance was absolutely correct to question why we need 2 supervisor’s. For the most part, the cops in the schools aren’t even going to be doing much and it will be unlikely there will be a school shooting in this county—but it could happen, so we are preparing for the “what if’s”. Staly has enough officers on the force that he could rotate some of them and do most of this for far less …..but he doesn’t want to! Again today I saw 2 officers sitting on their butts with their cars parked on private property doing nothing!!!

    Municipalities shouldn’t be paying or contributing at all…..the tax payers in those municipalities are already paying into the General Fund for the Sherirr’s budget as well as to the school board. For the municipalities to contribute would be like paying twice. Holland is making the move to jump in on this to save her face because she is catching so much flak for being controlled by Landon and Netts and not being a team player to the council members. She is not fooling anyone. What she has done is caused the taxed payers of the municipality to be over taxed but funding something twice as was previously described. The woman has never held a job and is clueless!

    The option that I haven’t heard the school board speak on is with school enrollment down to consolidate schools or to go to a 4 day school week. There is no reason to have all these schools around this county. The schools should have been designed for growth and the kids should have gone to one elementary school, one middle school and one high school! There is no reason why wings (single or multi layer) couldn’t have been constructed at the time. This was all poorly planned out but perhaps this could still be implemented to a degree, and a school or schools be sold to be used as a nursing home, rehab, homeless shelter, daycare, charter school, private schools or for some other purpose.

    This is all a knee jerk implementation and just because school shootings happen doesn’t mean we need cops in the schools. I think kids would be fearful knowing an armed officer was in their school. We hear on the news all the time that cops are arrested or fired for a variety of reasons. If teachers can carry, why do we need this? OVER KILL!!

  7. Duane says:

    The failure of law enforcement at Parkland is well documented. Not just there but in a number of mass killings. More laws will not fix those failures. There are already background checks. However there has numerous failures in reporting to the system. Maybe we should fix those issues first. I see no reason we shouldn’t “harden” our schools. Our children are as important as celebrities and politicians who have armed security. Don’t we owe it to them to protect them? Evil people will always find a way to do violence. Criminals don’t obey the laws now are more laws going to stop that, I don’t think so.

  8. Richard says:

    Ever think about why it is harder to sneak a weapon into official federal, state and judicial buildings than it is into a public or private school? Common sense needs to prevail versus greed.

  9. Chris A Pickett says:

    Again people with no business there, both recent Florida cases were committed by people who had NO business being there, but they were. You can spend all the funding you like, but if you allow people on campus who have no business there, all your security measures have failed. That is the basic foundation of “security” keeping those who don’t belong out………….until they accomplish that it is moot.

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