The value of having law enforcement officers in our schools is something very few would debate. In addition to dealing with criminal or disruptive issues that arise, these assignments are a useful tool for mentoring youth, developing information and better ensuring an overall safe environment where kids can learn, teachers can teach, administrators can manage, and parents can have extra peace of mind.
These officers know all the students and staff along with having an intimate familiarity with the campus itself.
Over the last 30 years, law enforcement has had a presence in our local schools and this is a common trend across the country. Initially, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office was the lone provider of this service and later the city police departments of Fort Myers and Cape Coral diversified into the middle and highs schools in their respective jurisdictions.
This arrangement has worked well and all the officers do a super job and actually save money and time by eliminating the need for agencies to dispatch back and forth to school issues throughout the day.
Funding for this function is a split between the School District and the various agencies and has recently led to dialogue between the cities of Cape Coral and Fort Myers, which are asking for more of a contribution from the School District. Fort Myers has an additional concern relative to their contract with the School District.
Bottom line, I was approached by the School District and asked what I would do if the cities of Fort Myers and/or Cape Coral vacated the schools.
My immediate response and unwavering, professional opinion is that the middle and high schools in our county need to be staffed by an assigned position, and I simply can’t accept a scenario whereby schools in the unincorporated areas would be staffed while those in a municipality would not.
Think about it: A cop at Riverdale but not at Mariner or a cop at Estero but not at Fort Myers High? A cop at Lehigh Middle but not at Caloosa? This is an untenable scenario.
A few weeks ago, the interim superintendent sent a letter to the Fort Myers Police Department excusing them from city schools at the end of this school year. Local media covered this issue and the future of school resource officers in Fort Myers and Cape Coral seems uncertain.
As this situation unfolds, I remain hopeful for resolve that keeps the best interests of our schools, students, and teachers in mind, and I remain committed to an assigned law enforcement presence in the schools without regard for the color of the polyester in the uniform.