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Broward public schools ask state lawmakers to help fund a districtwide police force

Peter Licata speaks to principals on Wednesday, June 14, 2023.
Gerard Albert III
/
WLRN
Peter Licata speaks to principals on Wednesday, June 14, 2023.

The new leader of Broward County Public Schools wants what his neighbors to the north and south have: a district-wide police department. To get there, he told state lawmakers that he'll need their help getting funding.

Superintendent Peter Licata didn't have an exact number yet but it will be high.

"We're looking close to a pretty good number if you do that math," he told state lawmakers gathered at Atlantic Technical College in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday. "We don't want to be a SWAT team. We just want to have police officers in schools that can handle the small stuff."

School board chair Lori Alhadeff told the lawmakers the school board will take all the help they can get.

"Whether it is funding over a three year period of time, allocation from the state, allocation from the federal government through grants. But we need help," she said.

Broward schools paid $103,000 per officer last school year, a number that has continually increased over the past five years — in 2017, the salary was just over $46,000. The district employs over 200 school resource officers.

The school district does have a Special Investigations Unit — which handles employee investigations and some security services — but the school board wants a fully operational department within the next three years.

Miami-Dade and Palm Beach schools both have their own school police force. Meanwhile, Broward contracts with 13 different municipalities, which provide school resource officers from city police departments or the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

READ MORE: Broward school board delays vote on controversial arrest diversion program for students

"We have the ability to be able to have unified plans in one place," said Jaime Alberti, chief of safety and security. "Having the ability to have our own police force that understands our procedures, our policies, how our business is conducted in the school district, it would be for us a benefit."

Superintendent Licata — who came from a school district with its own police force in Palm Beach — supports the plan.

"Our ultimate goal is to obviously decline the numbers of arrests in our schools and make sure students are well informed on how to act," he said.

A the Broward Joint Delegation meeting, state lawmakers acknowledged the need for more school safety resources, but questioned how the department would be structured. They may bring up providing funding during the next regular legislative session, which begins March 11.

State Senator Rosalind Osgood, a former school board member, applauded the board's efforts and also voiced support for the district's PROMISE program — which may soon be eliminated.

The Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Supports and Education program offers students accused of certain misdemeanors an alternative to being arrested and prosecuted through the criminal justice system.

Osgood told her colleagues that the school district can't form a department by themselves and she is open to helping.

"If it's thought-out and it's phased-in, that could possibly really provide a better level of safety to the school district," Osgood said.

Gerard Albert III covers Broward County. He is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University. He can be reached atgalbert@wlrnnews.org
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