Sarah Hollenbach/ WFTS / June 14, 2022
PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Pinellas County School District leaders are using the summer months to make high-tech enhancements to school campuses they believe will protect students and staff.
The innovations being made, alongside several other programs and initiatives, are earning Luke Williams, the Pinellas County School’s Chief of Police nationwide recognition. Williams is one of 6 finalists for the Director of the Year award by Campus Safety Magazine.
Williams takes school safety extremely seriously. He took over the role of Pinellas Schools Chief of Police just weeks after the Parkland, FL school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He’s spent every day of the last four years ensuring school campuses are safe.
“What I would like to tell the parents is that we do everything every day that we can to ensure the safety of your children,” he explained.
Williams and his team are working now to add a new alert system. If someone activates an active assailant panic button, local law enforcement automatically will get instant access to maps and blueprints of the school, access to all the camera feeds, and the ability to remotely lock doors to contain a suspect or unlock doors to allow children and staff to flee a school building.
The technology also has the ability to track a suspect’s every move inside a school.
“So, if we’re looking for a person with a pink polka dot shirt, we put that information into the system and the cameras will automatically look for pink polka dot shirts,” Williams explained.
By August, in time for the start of the school year, every school will be equipped with the new system. It’s forethought like this that is now placing Chief Williams among the finalists of the K-12 campus safety director of the year award.
Outside of campus safety, Williams has helped collect thousands of duffle bags for foster students. The program called Tiny Totes means that foster children don’t have to use garbage bags to haul their belongings between locations.
“Our kids if they get the misfortune of having to be displaced from a home, can put their things in something a little more dignified than a trash bag,” he added.
Williams has also improved law enforcement’s role in schools. As a veteran police officer for more than 30 years, Chief Williams defined what types of incidents require police involvement and what incidents should be handled by school administrators. He believes in forming bonds between the students and guardians or school resource officers.
“Mentoring is super big with me. Always has been, always will be,” he said with a smile.
Williams said school safety is a team effort and he’s proud of the group he leads, who would put their lives on the line to save others.
“Whenever I get a new training class of school safety officers or guardians or school resource officers, I ask them ‘Hey, if you have a problem going in and rescuing a child if there is a shooting going on, I wouldn’t feel bad if you give me your stuff now and leave because when I need you, I’m going to need you,’” he elaborated.
He said over the years no one has backed down.
“I think we all understand there’s that risk you would take,” he added.
Williams grew up attending Pinellas County Schools. His wife and children also graduated from the school district. His granddaughter, who is 3 years old, will eventually also attend Pinellas County Schools. He said that makes his job personal.
“It is personal but then it’s not because I care about everyone and want to keep everyone safe,” he said.
Williams said he originally intended to retire in 2018 but decided to keep giving back to his community.
“I didn’t expect to continue working but a number of people approached me and said ‘Hey, you love these kids we need your help.’ So, I’m here and I will be as long as I need to be to make sure kids remain safe.”
The Campus Safety Director of the Year winner will be announced during the Campus Safety Conference East next week. It’s being held June 20-22 in Bethesda, Maryland.