A first-of-its-kind school security training program offered by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office wrapped up Wednesday, when 40 deputies graduated with certificates showing they’re ready to work in school settings.
The program was developed in response to December’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and similar attacks in school settings. Calls for an increased law enforcement presence in schools have resounded in the months since the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children dead.
“We don’t want to send a deputy in cold to working in the schools,” said Capt. Tim Guerrette, who taught the course.
During the three-day training program, deputies learned the duties associated with working in a school, how to interact with students and other essential information. It was provided through a partnership with the Florida Attorney General’s Office, which made it free for attendees.
Guerrette said the cost for such a program would typically be $295 per participant.
Attendance was not required, but deputies interested in working in schools were encouraged to go. The goal is to have a group of officers who are “ready to go” if the Sheriff’s Office decides to increase the number of Youth Relations Deputies, or YRD’s, in Collier County schools, Guerrette said.
“That way it’s an instant thing,” he said.
Collier schools Superintendent Kamela Patton has declined to discuss how deputies are assigned to schools. The district previously had at least one assigned exclusively to each middle and high school, while others split time between three schools at the elementary level.
After the Sandy Hook shootings, school district administrators in Lee and Collier counties began discussions about increasing the number of deputies in schools. At the start of this semester, Lee County administrators placed deputies in all elementary schools, which had previously been uncovered.
In Collier County, the district and Sheriff’s Office have been considering assigning officers to elementary schools on a full-time basis, but a decision has not yet been announced. Patton said Wednesday the Sheriff’s Office is still analyzing budgets to see if it’s a possibility.
She said the district appreciates the training being offered.
“We are always grateful for additional school safety training that is provided by the Sheriff’s Office,” she said in a statement.
Cpl. Bonnie Bee, who attended the training program, said she believes training needs to be ongoing.
“You can never get enough training,” Bee said.
She decided to attend because she plans to apply for an open YRD position. She said she has wanted to work with children because “it all starts” with them.
“If we do our jobs well with the children, then it lessens the amount of negative interactions with them when they become adults,” Bee said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”
Guerrette said the Sheriff’s Office plans to offer more training dates, potentially in the summer, and to encourage law enforcement officers from other parts of the state to attend.
He said that in the immediate aftermath of attacks like Sandy Hook, people jump on opportunities like the training being offered, but the sheriff’s office wants to keep a focus on security.
“We want to keep vigilante,” Guerrette said. “We don’t want to let our guard down.”