SCHOOL SAFETY

Miami-Dade, Broward grapple with how to put more police officers in schools

 

South Florida’s police and elected officials say they want a cop assigned to every public school, but turning that dream into reality is proving complicated.

mrvasquez@MiamiHerald.com

Politicians and police in South Florida grappled Friday with how to man every public school with a police officer, but a consensus solution still seems a long way away.

In Miami-Dade, where the school district’s in-house police force doesn’t have the manpower to staff all 345 public schools, a suggestion to have county and city police departments fill the void ran into a harsh reality: Those police departments are short on bodies, too. The idea was discussed during a large gathering of police and government officials from more than two dozen municipalities and agencies.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said there simply aren’t enough county resources to quickly come up with officers for schools in unincorporated Dade.

“We don’t have that many people on patrol,” Gimenez said. “That’s a problem.”

In Broward, a proposal by state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, to create a local taxing district that would fund school officers met stiff resistance Friday from Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie and many Broward School Board members. They want their legislative delegation to focus on additional funding for school building repairs.

“We have to pick our battles,” School Board member Patricia Good told lawmakers in a workshop. “We have schools that are falling apart.”

Broward’s school district is struggling with a $1.8 billion backlog of construction and repair needs that were indefinitely postponed years ago after state lawmakers reduced the amount of property tax dollars dedicated to that. The change costs Broward about $60 million a year, and the district considers getting the funding restored one of its top priorities this year in Tallahassee. If that money returned, Broward estimates it could issue a construction bond for about $2 billion.

State lawmakers insisted they could fight for funding for both construction and police officers and were taken aback at the School Board’s opposition to the idea.

“You’d think they be kissing our feet,” Sobel said after the meeting.

Sobel had pitched the local tax, which would have to be approved by Broward voters, as a once-and-for-all funding solution for Broward’s school resource officers. Broward splits the cost of the officers with local cities. But some city officials believe the school district should be covering the whole tab, and other cities can’t afford to place officers at all schools.

As a result, about 100 of Broward’s 232 schools lack a full-time officer, though some have them part time.

Broward’s school district spends about $6 million per year on officers. School Board Chairwoman Laurie Rich Levinson said it is committed to staffing all its schools with officers, but she believes it can be done without a tax increase. If Broward is going to ask the Legislature for any tax increase, Levinson said it should be to restore the higher property tax funding for construction projects.

Meanwhile, some Miami-Dade municipal police chiefs said putting their officers at schools is more complicated an issue than simply telling them to drive over to the neighborhood elementary school. There are logistical issues and red tape. And the union representing schools police opposes the idea.

“Barriers still exist,” said Miami Gardens Chief Matthew Boyd. Miami-Dade’s mayor and schools superintendent asked those at their gathering to join school safety-related focus groups that will meet during the next month. After that, there will be another formal meeting in March, with the hope of laying out a possible path forward.

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