Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Cape Coral designates more than $1 million for police officers in schools

Sarah Jarvis New Press AMay 15, 2018

Cape Coral City Council voted Monday night to designate more than $1 million from this year's budget toward a school resource officer program for the city's public schools.

This fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, will see the creation of a police sergeant position to head up the SROs, using money from the city's "salary savings," according to a city memo. The city will also purchase 23 police vehicles totaling $1.2 million coming out of "undesignated reserves," according to the resolution passed.

The vote was unanimous, with District 2 council member John Carioscia absent.

Next fiscal year — which starts Oct. 1 —  the city plans to designate $1,038,501 to fund 22 officer positions for the city's 19 Lee County District schools and four charter schools run by the city.

Charter schools are responsible for funding their own SROs. The city's charter schools, Christa McAuliffe Charter Elementary School and the three Oasis charter schools, presently share three SROs provided by the police department.

Police Chief David Newlan said the department has spoken with the other two charter schools in the city, Unity Charter School of Cape Coral and North Nicholas High School, and received a verbal agreement that they will be implementing SROs for the upcoming school year.

"The (Police) Department will utilize 22 police officers from various specialty units to cover the schools on a temporary basis while maintaining the present level of first responders on the road," reads a city memo (full memo below). "In addition, patrol officers will be required to complete paperwork on school properties located within their respective zones to help provide a police presence."

Newlan said the department will backfill the specialty teams from which the SROs will be pulled. He said he is confident that the department will find people to fill those positions.

"The protection of our children is our top priority," Newlan said.

As for the vehicles, Newlan said it is cheaper to put them on this fiscal year’s budget instead of next year’s, and that it will take about five months to get the vehicles once the city orders them.

The city is making these changes after Gov. Rick Scott signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act in March, requiring an SRO at every school in Florida. That month, the Lee County Sheriff's Office reassigned 40 deputies to serve as resource officers, putting a resource officer in every Lee County public school. Those additional deputies will remain in the schools through the end of this school year, which is later this month.

The Lee County School District will fund 50 percent up to $50,000 per SRO for its 19 schools in the Cape for the 2018-19 school year. The Lee County commission opted to only provide SRO funding for its schools in unincorporated parts of the county. The Cape has the most schools of any city in the district.

“We believe, all of us here, that we acted very expediently in response to the Senate bill that was signed by Gov. Scott,”  City Manager John Szerlag said. “What we do here can be a template not only for Lee County, but for the entire state of Florida.”

Council members expressed support for the resolution, saying it was an easy vote to help keep children safe and to comply with state law.

"I've always thought it'd be much better to have our own police officers in the schools," District 6 council member Rick Williams said. "It's a two-way relationship: The police department will gain information from the students, and the students obviously will have a chance to get to know our police department better. It just makes sense."