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A Nude Video, A Shot Fired: It's A Challenge Finding Qualified School Safety Guards in Florida

Tampa Bay Times
About 3,000 law enforcement officers and 900 guardians assigned to Florida schools.

In Broward County, a guard assigned to an elementary school leaves a loaded gun in his locked office. Near Orlando, a safe-school officer sends a nude video of herself to her husband from a school bathroom while on her lunch break. In Hillsborough County, a school guardian accidentally fires a bullet through a bathroom mirror while practicing for a firearms certification test.

Of all the mishaps, that last one raised the most alarms with a school safety consultant interviewed by South Florida Sun Sentinel reporter Skyler Swisher.

“Nobody was injured in that incident, but it certainly is alarming. Because if something like that were to happen in a school, it could have a tragic result,” says Swisher.

In a recent report, Swisher looked at the number of mishaps involving school guardians reported since last May to Florida’s Office of Safe Schools. Under a new state law, school districts must notify state officials whenever a safe-school officer is terminated or disciplined for misconduct or fires a weapon outside of training.

Eleven notifications have been filed so far, representing a small number of the 3,000 law enforcement officers and 900 guardians assigned to Florida schools.

But the safety consultant interviewed by Swisher says the mishaps point to the difficulty Florida school districts have in finding qualified armed officers to protect students.

A law approved in 2018 in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School requires school districts to assign at least one armed safe-school officer to every campus. 

With police departments nationwide struggling to recruit qualified officers of their own, fulfilling that requirement has been no mean feat. The Sun Sentinel reports that Broward County had to actually lower its standards for school guardians because it was having such a hard time filling the positions.

But Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, told Swisher that the “right oversight mechanism is in place,” and that prospective safe school officers are put through the same paces as police officers.

Christine DiMattei is WLRN's Morning Edition anchor and also reports on Arts & Culture.
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