The School Resource Deputy Program in St. Lucie County dates back to 1984 when a Grand Jury was convened by Judge Philip Nourse to address safety in public schools.
As a result, a Committee on School Safety was created and then-Sheriff R.C. “Bobby” Knowles invited Leon County Sheriff’s Office to present their School Resource Officer program. The Committee overwhelming concluded that a program like this would answer all recommendations of the Grand Jury.
The program called for a St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Deputy at each middle and high school with three “pillars” of responsibility: law enforcement, educator, counselor.
In April 1986, the School Resource Deputy (SRD) Program launched at Central, Westwood and Lincoln Park high schools and Dan McCarty and Northport middle schools. The initial cost was $250,000. Then-superintendent of schools George Hill was so excited about the partnership he financed 50% of the program through the school district.
Over time, the SRD program grew with the population and the number of schools. In 2009, the SRD program was had 43 deputies in all levels of public school and funding was split between the two budgets.
The recession of 2010 greatly impacted the program, reducing staffing to 23 and eliminating deputies from elementary schools. Also eliminated was funding from the School District. Fortunately, the Board of County Commissioners believed so strongly in the program they agreed to provide full funding. Port St. Lucie Police Department also stepped in and provided three officers, one at each of the Port St. Lucie-based high schools.
In 2015, the economy leveled out and personnel were added back to the program, but never returned to the elementary schools. Funding from the School District returned, but at a nominal amount.
In the hours after the tragic shooting in Parkland, I immediately set into motion a plan to significantly enhance the level of service to our public schools and ensure they remained a safe place for students, teachers, staff and visitors.
On the day after the shooting, law enforcement personnel from across our agency were placed at ALL schools throughout the county and close patrols and foot patrols were ordered. The Committee on School Safety, created in the 80s, was re-constituted and charged with evaluating the SRD program, consistent training for shooting incidents, Code Red school evacuation drills and information sharing between law enforcement and school district staff.
On March 6, we implemented a plan to permanently staff all elementary schools and on March 19 expanded that plan to include Charter Schools through re-assigning personnel from other units. Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature authorized the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act mandating staffing at publicly-funded schools with a law enforcement officer and other initiatives to enhance security. While some state funding was provided in this legislation, it was nowhere near the amount needed to comply with the law. These requirements forced the agency to increase SRD staffing to 53 deputies and four supervisors.
The costs to comply with the law in St. Lucie County is estimated at $7 million. This year, state provided one-seventh of funding needed and the school district increased their contribution to $800,000. The Board of County Commission provided $4.5 million, leaving us to reduce services in other areas to make up the difference.
This April, voters in St. Lucie County will have the opportunity to approve a referendum to ensure funding for the next four years. Twenty other counties have passed similar referendums this year. Voters will receive a mail-in ballot on or about April 3 and approval will raise teacher pay, continue the School Resource Deputy Program, expand mental health services for our children, and preserve important school-based programs. It will cost, on average, $8.50 per month per homeowner. Every penny of this four-year levy will remain here and a Citizens Advisory Committee will be established to guarantee that every dollar is spent as intended.
You can learn more at https://www.stlucie.k12.fl.us/cast-your-vote/.