WUFT PBS | Bryanna Basilio | June 15, 2020
The Gainesville City Commission is moving forward with a plan to extract its police department from school resource officer duties.
In a Thursday meeting, city commissioners voted on the motion to negotiate with the Alachua County School Board to transition the cost of having officers in schools.
The total cost of school resource officers is more than $2.1 million and the school district covers $1.2 million of that amount from a budget more than three times the size of the city’s, Commissioner Gail Johnson said. She first pushed for this change in a Facebook post a week ago and then again in the Thursday meeting.
The school board receives a sizable chunk of money to pay for the school resource officer mandate from the state legislature, although the city does not.
Commissioners want to see the city’s $900,000 spent on other initiatives.
“We can redirect those funds into programs that we currently have on the table that we can scale relatively soon… for initiatives that the community wants,” Johnson said. “I believe this with all my heart and soul, we are so much better stewards of the taxpayer money than the school board and the recent decisions that they’ve made.”
Commissioners also said having police in schools may not be as effective as first thought following the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, when Florida and other states ramped up their presence.
“There is no evidence that having school resource officers on duty in schools prevents shootings, and the data shows this,” Mayor Lauren Poe said. “I think there are ways to improve and have better relationships between our community and our police officers, but I don’t know that having them in schools every day is the most appropriate use of money.”
Following the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, state legislators voted to require districts to have at least one school resource officer on duty at every school. However, the statute says school districts can partner with local law enforcement agencies to meet the mandate.
Commissioner Harvey Ward wanted to begin the conversation with the school board, the staff and city officials as opposed to simply opting out of spending anything on resource officers. One of his colleagues expressed a similar hesitancy.
“We all know it’s a mandate,” Commissioner Gigi Simmons said. “If we want our children to be safe or we need protection, who better than GPD?”
Simmons wanted more dialogue with the school board and other district officials.
“We have to have transparency and partnerships with the school board,” Simmons said.
“We don’t always get it right. The commission does not always get it right. The school board does not always get it right. We have problems we’re dealing with but we have to open a line of communication and work together with not only the school board, but with the county and the sheriff.”
At the end of the meeting, commissioners voted 4-3 on the motion to enter negotiations with the school board to transition the cost; commissioners David Arreola, Ward and Simmons were in dissent.