Clay County Public Schools creating district police department to tackle school safety

Clay County Public Schools will have its own police department by Fall.

After a two-hour discussion that included multiple failed motions, board members voted to create a 47-member police department to help bolster school security.

“We will do it as aggressive as we can in order to have the best to protect our schools,” said Superintendent Addison Davis.

The department will include a Chief, two Lieutenants, four Sergeants, 36 School Resource Officers, three Relief SROs, and a Detective.

The SROs will cover most of the district’s schools.

Orange Park Police officers would be used at Grove Park Elementary, Orange Park Elementary, and Orange Park Junior High.

Green Cove Springs Police officers would patrol Charles E. Bennett Elementary and Green Cove Springs Junior High.

After the Parkland shooting last year, state leaders passed a law requiring SROs or school safety officers at every public school in Florida.

RELATED: School safety changes proposed as Parkland anniversary nears

Clay County has been using a combination of SROs from local law enforcement agencies like the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, and employees hired under the Guardian Program.

Under this new plan, the district’s 27 Guardians would be phased out after the first year.

Superintendent Davis said some of the Guardians could become SROs who work in the district’s new police force.

The School Board has more financial flexibility to implement the plan after voters passed a property tax increase for school security improvements in August.

The first year/startup costs total more than $6.1 million. Second year costs are approximately $4.2 million.

Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels sat in on Thursday’s meeting but did not speak. He told us afterward he thought the board’s vote was short-sighted, but he’d help the district any way he could.

“I don’t think they thought it through,” said Daniels. “There’s an investigative side to law enforcement that they’re not thinking about. Will it be a 24-hour coverage when school’s out and its nighttime? The jurisdiction still belongs to the district police department.”

Superintendent Davis acknowledged that creating the district police department in five months is a tall order. He told us the district will hire personnel to help train staff, and there would be a nationwide search for a police chief.

“I understand what it takes to get it done, and we’ll do it to the best of our ability,” Davis said.

Daniels released a longer statement Friday morning on the board's decision to create a district police department:

"I don't think the Clay County School Board thought this through.  There's an investigative side to law enforcement that they're not thinking about.  The jurisdiction will belong to the school board police department, with coverage being needed 24 hours a day.

"We do wish that the school board had partnered with us in their planning phase for their police department.  With that not occurring, I did hope for a chance to speak at the meeting last night, in order to provide insight on these matters, but my members and I were never called upon.

"That said, the Clay County Sheriff's Office won't let the school board fail, because allowing them to fail will be all of us failing our children.  We will do anything we can to help.  We will continue to be here for the school board and especially for our community, as we are every day."