Education

Miami-Dade Schools scramble to place a cop on every campus by the first day of class

Community activists and residents joined Jorge Colina during his introduction as Miami’s new police chief at City Hall on Jan. 18. Colina said Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, that he is unable to staff a police officer at each elementary and K-8 school within its city limits for the entire school day because of high crime rates.
Community activists and residents joined Jorge Colina during his introduction as Miami’s new police chief at City Hall on Jan. 18. Colina said Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, that he is unable to staff a police officer at each elementary and K-8 school within its city limits for the entire school day because of high crime rates. pportal@miamiherald.com

The Miami-Dade County school district is making last-minute deals with municipal police departments to place an officer at every school to be in compliance with new state law just days before a new school year debuts Monday.

The police chief of the City of Miami, one of the last remaining cities that had yet to make an agreement with the school district, said Thursday morning that it couldn’t station an officer full-time at 38 elementary and Kindergarten through eighth grade schools in the city because of high crime in surrounding neighborhoods. By late afternoon, the city brokered a tentative agreement with the school district to place its officers in schools from first bell to dismissal.

That agreement, which will be up for approval on the city commission’s agenda in September, leaves about 30 schools in the county without a designated officer as of Thursday evening.

“My primary concern was not to affect our current staffing levels so we’re better able to protect our citizens all of the time,” said Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina. “Between funding the school board will provide and the city will provide, I’ll be able to pay officers at schools and not affect our staffing.”

In most cases, the City of Miami will pay officers overtime as the school district hires more officers for its own police force. Those recruits, Colina said, will be able to use the city’s police academy free of charge to the school district, per the agreement, and will eventually replace and relieve city officers on school duty.

That means the City of Miami will also cash in on about $35,000 per school covered in funding made available by the school district. The district has similar agreements with municipalities, such as Miami Beach, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Hialeah, Miami Lakes and Doral to help offset costs.

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Miami-Dade schools spokeswoman Daisy Gonzalez-Diego said there’s a tentative agreement with Miami Gardens to staff 10 officers in the city’s 16 schools. It is not clear how the remaining schools will be covered.

Homestead Police spokesman Det. Fernando Morales wrote in an email that an agreement with the school district will be presented to the mayor and city council on Wednesday for review. Morales said it would not staff officers at schools in the meantime but said officers will “saturate” school areas.

Miami-Dade Schools Police Chief Edwin Lopez is optimistic that the deals with cities will work out, joking that if he even became a school resource officer, the school district would still be short on officers in schools.

If remaining cities, including South Miami and Miami Springs, don’t come through, the school district may have to ask other cities for help in the short term.

“We have relationships with every single department,” Lopez said. “We’re going to hopefully receive assistance.”

The school district’s police force has been on a hiring spree to cover schools and is expected to sign a $20 million agreement on Friday with the Miami-Dade Police Department to staff about 120 officers on overtime at schools in unincorporated areas of the county.

The district is striving to be in compliance with a new state law, approved in March after a former student killed 17 and injured another 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. That statute requires school districts to work with law enforcement to designate either a sworn officer or a trained, armed guard, which could be a school employee but not a full-time teacher, to defend schools from threats.

Most middle and high schools in Miami-Dade already had a school resource officer before the law passed. To cover about 250 elementary and K-8 schools, the school district has opted to place sworn officers at schools, a pricier option.

The Broward County school district, which preferred sworn officers but resorted to hiring armed guardians with little time and not enough funding, asked the cities of Fort Lauderdale, Lauderhill and Hollywood to over-commit and place more officers to cover about 50 schools that were without armed security for the first day of school Wednesday, said Superintendent Robert Runcie.

Contact Colleen Wright at 305-376-3003 and @Colleen_Wright.

North Miami Police Department and Miami-Dade County Public Schools Police take part in an active shooter drill at North Miami Senior High on Tuesday, July 24, 2018.

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