Orlando, Fla. (CBS TAMPA) — Orange Orange County Public Schools, the tenth largest school district in the U.S., voted to establish its own police force in response to safety concerns prompted by the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting.
Both Orange County Public School officials and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office say there has been no increase in violent crimes on school grounds, but district officials say the new officers will have arrest powers and be allowed to carry weapons on school property based upon external reviews of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting that left 20 children and six adult staff members dead.
“There are threats all the time and we need a greater level of intelligence gathering,” school board Chairman Bill Sublette told My News 13. “We need a greater ability to access local, state and federal databases, none of which we can do without our own police force.”
The school board told WESH-TV that the police plan will not affect the more than 180 school resource officers currently on district campuses, but will replace the 15 non-sworn security guards. Five new officers who are former local law enforcement will be on school grounds this year.
The school district has more than 192,000 students in 189 schools.
Orange County school officials say the police force has been budgeted and will cost $31,000 up-front, but an additional $40,000 will be needed for law enforcement certifications, new software and a $13,000 salary boost for current officers.
District officials say in addition to improved school safety, part of the plan is responding to the increasing amount of students processed through the school to the prison and juvenile justice pipelines.
“A lot of what used to be a playground fight for example, back in our day, now these result in the arrest of a kid,” Sublette told My News 13. “We’re simply replacing our security force with sworn law enforcement officers and we’re transitioning into that.”
“There are issues of arrest; we also want to look at diversionary programs. We may have some smaller misdemeanors that don’t necessarily need to cause an arrest or we can use things like civil citations,” said Michael Eugene, chief operations officer.
The school board noted that counties including Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough and Palm Beach have already established their own police school police forces.
“We’re hoping that it actually lessens the number of arrests on our campuses day to day,” Sublette said.