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What Six School Cops and $287,464 Buy: Mentor, Counselor, Law Enforcement Officer

| August 28, 2012

Superintendent Jacob Oliva--still principal at FPC at the time--is to the right, and Superintendent Janet Valentine is looking on further to the right. (© FlaglerLive)

School resource deputy Calvin Grant, left, meeting Sen. John Thrasher last May. Grant is one of two school cops at Flagler Palm Coast High School. Deputy Superintendent Jacob Oliva–still principal at FPC at the time–is to the right, and Superintendent Janet Valentine is looking on further to the right. (© FlaglerLive)

A trio of school and sheriff’s officials paid tribute today to the Palm Coast City Council, which helps pay for one of the six deputies in Flagler County’s middle and high schools. The $287,000 program is popular among administrators, who have come to rely on school cops for a variety of duties that extend beyond discipline. But it’s become more expensive even as the number of deputies in schools has been cut.

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“We could not do without these SROs in the schools,” Janet Valentine, the school superintendent, told the council. “They are there with us every day in our middle and high schools and at Everest Alternative school. We would love to have one in each of our elementary schools because they are just such a help and a role model for students. But we just don’t have that luxury. But without them, and them knowing what’s going on in the communities and what happens in the communities, and then kids bringing that to school, it just makes it for such a much safer environment.”

In 2006, the district had nine deputies in schools, paying $222,400 for the bunch. The sheriff’s office picked up the balance of the cost. Over time, Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming, under pressure to cut costs, shifted further costs to the district, which could not pay to keep all nine deputies. It reduced them to five, and last year upped the number to six, for almost $300,000. Flagler Palm Coast High School has two deputies. The figures don’t include overtime costs, or the $32-an-hour cost of posting school cops at local sports events.

Last year, the deputies conducted a combined 141 classes on drug awareness, dating violence and alcohol awareness in the schools. They also use a civil citation program that gives first-time misdemeanor offenders an opportunity to stay out of the criminal justice system. Some 45 such civil citations were issued last year. The deputies also respond to issues that bubble up in the community, becoming community police officers in the balance of the time they don’t spend at school. Last year the school cops—officially called School Resource Deputies, or SRDs, which many people refer to as School Resource Officers, or SROs—dealt  with matters at the public library on Belle Terre, which was a favored hang-out for small-time marijuana enthusiasts. They were instrumental in diffusing a violent situation that developed out of a fight between Palm Coast and Bunnell groups at Ralph Carter Park. They resolved chronic fights taking place on the walkers’ bridge along Belle Terre, near Buddy Taylor Middle School.

The program is also helping Palm Coast by conducting stings to crack down on under-age drinking and the use of synthetic marijuana. “But I’ll happily report to you, we had more citizens turn them away than made the purchases,” Cpl. Don Apperson, who leads the small corps of school cops for the sheriff’s office, said of students trying to get adults to buy them alcohol, while liquor store owners are also shoving off the under-age from hanging around on their properties.

Apperson, who was involved in a much-publicized incident at Matanzas High School last year—the incident that led to the return of Tasers on school cops’ belts—gave the most vivid details of SROs’ duties and influence on school grounds.

Bill McGuire. (© FlaglerLive) palm coast city council

Bill McGuire. (© FlaglerLive)

“The SRO program is based on a triad: mentor, counselor, law enforcement officer. We’re expected to be those three things at all times within the school,” Apperson said. “Now, if we weren’t in the schools, when there are issues at the schools you’re taking the guy on the zone, who’s out there defending and protecting the citizens, and he’s responding to the school to handle the situation there. When they respond to the school, it’s a totally different attitude because they’re not really6 in that mentor counselor law enforcement officer mode, they’re in that law enforcement mode. So that’s where we take the moment to hear them out and try to work with them, as opposed to cuff ’em, stuff ’em, onto the next call. And I’m not saying all our patrol officers are like that. That’s not what I’m saying. We have more time to spend more time with the individual students, with the parents that are brought in, with the administrators, and we come together and we try to fix the problem as opposed to just  putting them in handcuffs, getting their fingerprints and putting them in the DJJ system.”

Apperson added: “We have more students that come to us and report issues within their own homes or issues that they’re having within the community than they’re talking to their own parents, to their guidance counselors, to their teachers. There’s just that trust that has been built within us that they feel they can communicate with us. Do we turn them away? Absolutely not. I don’t care if you were beat up in the community. If you come to me, we’re going to handle it.”

Apperson went out of his way to modulate one particular council member’s indictment of parents, whom he blamed for heightening the sort of problems now seeming to require the presence of cops on campus.

“What’s your reaction when you deal with the parents?” council member Bill McGuire asked. “I get the impression that just as long as they take the kids to school, it’s the school’s problem, they don’t give a flip anymore about it.”

“I will tell you as a parent of children who’ve come through Flagler County,” Apperson said, “unfortunately we’re in a very bad economic time in our county, and these parents, I don’t want to say they’re bad par4ents, but they’re working their butts off to try to make a living for their family. And you know, I’m not saying their priorities are right, but when you look at it, they may not have bosses that understand, hey, I have to go to the school because my daughter or my son’s academics are suffering. I don’t want to put it on the parents. There’s a lot of issues that go on within our community on a daily basis.” When parents do come to the school, they’re very supportive of the district and the sheriff’s office, but are caught up in trying to make a living, Apperson said. “Times have changed,” he said.

McGuire persisted, describing an impression that “by and large, when people with problem kids bring them to school, they expect the school to be mommy and daddy, teacher, policeman, counselor, psychiatrist.” He cited near-empty school board meetings, where parents are seldom in attendance as an indication of a lack of care.

Both Valentine and Winnie Oden, the principal at Everest alternative school and the district’s liaison to the sheriff’s office, countered McGuire’s bleaker view. “We’re teaching the whole child,” Oden said. “There are counselors there, there are programs and support systems in place, there are mentors that come in and out.” And most of the time the concerns are satisfied at the school, Oden said, which may explain the absence of parents at school board meetings. McGuire’s point was also refuted indirectly later when Jim Landon, the city manager, spoke of the 2-to-1 margin of victory that ensured the renewal of the school district’s sales tax referendum for 10 more years, clearly an indication of parental support.

Winnie Oden. (© FlaglerLive)

McGuire was complimentary of the district’s work, but problems, he said, “make you sit back and wonder when you’re my age, where did our society take a turn, because when I went to school and when my kids went to school, there weren’t any cops in the schools. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, if the results are there then so be it, but somewhere along the line, we as a society in this country have dropped the ball somewhere, because things that happen in schools now are just horrifying to me.”

“I have been an administrator for 11 years in Flagler County. I’ve tried it without school resource officers, I’ve tried it with school resource officers, and it’s much better with the school resource officers,” Oden had said earlier. “They have such a special gift, that unit, and they’ve been trained in a different way, that when they work with the students, the goal is really to have the child see the error of their ways, have the child rehabilitated as best that we can. It’s really a uniform approach to say what is broken in this child, and then what can we do to fix it.”

Jon Netts, the mayor, summed it up: “I’ve spent 25 years in education, I was in the classroom and as an administrator. I wish during my time in the school system, I’d had a resource like this. Bill’s right. There are some parents who abdicate their responsibility. That’s nothing new. That was the case when I went into teaching back in the late 60s, and it’s still true today. You can’t–you shouldn’t turn your back on those kids.”

A Guide to Developing a School Resource Officer Program

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11 Responses for “What Six School Cops and $287,464 Buy: Mentor, Counselor, Law Enforcement Officer”

  1. KM says:

    Don’t worry, school uniforms are going to fix it all.

    • flip it says:

      4 students “liked this”
      I for one LOVE the uniforms/dress code… it won’t solve all the violence that goes on in the schools..but you KIDS sure look better at the bus stops!

  2. w.ryan says:

    It’s always good that the interaction between Law Enforcement Officers and children exists. But the fear factor exists especially amount AA children who have the likelihood to be arrested more so than their counter parts. There is a real “School to prison pipeline” that exist that haven’t been addressed. Another aspect of divides are the generation gap and the cultural divide that seem to frustrate Bill McGuire. Back when he and his age group were teens they had activities that were free and of their own makings. Today restrictions and accessibility is a big issue as well as resolve of activities for the youth. Everything in Palm Coast just about is based on pay. The interaction of ethnicity was somewhat insulated and the economy was “Made in America”. With exception to guns and drugs what other employment opportunities exist? The employment opportunities are few and far between for adults as well as teenagers. I’m glad that Cpl.Apperson brought this fact to the table. Also I’m not astonished that McGuire didn’t elaborate on what he’s doing to create more jobs. But I forget that Goverments don’t create jobs. They just find clever ways to tax their citizens without stating this fact. City Governments hasn’t as yet accepted blame for the inflated costs imposed during the housing boom helping to create the bubble that crippled the economy. Blaming house buyers unaware of the game instead. I wish cash could be thrown to the problems of the youth and activities. I wish that cash could be thrown to the problems of parent stress and employment opportunities and I wish that Politicians didn’t put a hammer to a hang nail. Is this money for the SRO’s better than nothing? Councilman McGuire, these are the same children as when you were growing up. We need not put a magnifying glass on them,labeling them and their parents. Situation over these generations have changed.

  3. deana carmen says:

    While I applaud the decision to add another SRD and the acknowledgement of the outstanding work that they do in our schools, I wonder why have they waited until now? My guess is adding this one SRD made for positive headlines right before the Sheriff’s election! Where was the outrage when the SRD Unit was cut by a third? Why was there no article outline the dismantling of this program by Don Fleming? As this article stated, the SRD program at one time had nine deputies on patrol in our schools. Had is the operative word here! Did we forget that Don Fleming used his discretion to allocate the Sheriff’s Office funds to purchase gas guzzling SUV’s and promote numerous cronies to supervisory positions instead of looking out for the safety and wellbeing of our children? I have been to several forums and heard Sheriff Jim Manfre talk about the SRD program that he built and he sadly had to watch their numbers decline. I have personally asked him what his plans were for this Unit and he assured me that the SRD’s would be a top priority when he returns to the Sheriff’s Office. He recognizes the need to reach out to our children to make a positive impact on their lives before they are lost to the streets. How sad others only see it as an election pawn.

  4. Gia says:

    There is a lot of evil in schools, but parents do not care & are also responsible for their kids behavior. Uniform like police in schools is a must. There is not enough discipline.

  5. Initialjoe says:

    I think SRO’s are a great thing. I went to a large high school (almost 3k) and was on a first name basis with my SRO…for bad reasons…but if it wasn’t for them being nice and giving me chances I might not be where I am today. Also, they help with stabbings, shootings, and quashing drug sales. School uniforms are, and always will be, a joke. They are a way to take away a childs individuality to make them conform to societal norms.

  6. w.ryan says:

    Times have changed since McGuire and our most of our City Council went to school. But let”s face the facts. Palm Coast is not Chicago, Boston nor New York. You’ll don’t know bad kids! A lot of the issues in our schools are manufactures and conjured up Just like the nonsense about school uniforms and tasers. New York has school safety officers that didn’t carry. At this point a uniform is assigned to the H.S.’s. I totally disagree with Miss Valentine. We don’t need cops in elementary. I do appreciate the SRO’s but they are also Deans and that is not their jobs. The school climate is for learning and everything isn’t a cops job or responsibility to do. Being a past LEO myself I know that cops are put into situations even when it’s not warranted. By default: let the cop handle it! They can do it! Same thing apply to politics. More cops and kissing babies. PAL and other community based interactions do a lot of what s said of the SRO’s. More parks and more community policing and more activities to stimulate the interest of our children.

  7. Reality Check says:

    Grew up in a NY city school, no police on campus, it is the administrations job to handle an issue, 911 when the police are needed. This state spends more money on what it does not need, this county including the school district needs a good enema to clear out all the wasteful BS.

  8. KM says:

    Really flip it? 4 students liked it? you KIDS look better? What on Earth makes you assume that those that liked this were students? It was not posted by a student, and you cannot generalize the likers as students either.

  9. Dan says:

    All the sro’s do is harass students and push a pen to make themselves look good. If you parents actually like the idea of sro’s you haven’t dealt with them. They are a waste of money and don’t do much for the school.

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