Elementary schools will get officers

Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 31, 2012 at 7:37 p.m.

The Gainesville Police Department has committed to patrolling 12 public elementary schools in the city starting Thursday when classes resume.

According to a statement released last Thursday, the department will assign officers to every school, and the arrangement will last for an unknown amount of time. Officials are looking for ways to fund the arrangement for at least six weeks.

Duval, Finley, Foster, Glen Springs, Littlewood, Metcalfe, Norton, Rawlings, Talbot, Terwilliger, Williams and the One Room School will have GPD officers at the schools.

The cost to staff the 12 schools within city limits will be about $5,100 a day, according to the statement. Officers either will receive temporary or overtime assignments in order to staff the schools.

The action comes in response to concerns about school safety following the shooting deaths on Dec. 14 of 26 people, including 20 children, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

GPD spokesman Officer Ben Tobias said the department would like to have officers at the schools for at least six weeks, but that depends on manpower and funding.

He said the department has estimated the cost of hiring 12 new officers to patrol the schools and assigning one sergeant to supervise at about $1.3 million the first year and about $900,000 each year thereafter. The expense of the first year would be higher because of the costs of adding new personnel, including buying new vehicles, computers and weapons.

"That's a huge number," he said. "We're talking creating 12 new positions."

The Alachua County Sheriff's Office also has made a proposal to the School Board to have deputies stationed at the 12 elementary schools outside the Gainesville city limits. These are Alachua, Archer, Chiles, Hidden Oak, Idylwild, Irby, Lake Forest, Meadowbrook, Newberry, Shell, Waldo and Wiles.

Along with the School Board, both agencies are looking for ways to permanently fund school resource officers in elementary schools. A work group with representatives from the three groups has formed and will continue to meet to devise a long-term safety plan for schools. The group also has pledged to work with mental health experts on the plan.

GPD Chief Tony Jones said in a statement that law enforcement will remain focused on keeping students at school safe.

"Protecting these children needs to be our priority," he said. "They are our most vulnerable citizens."

Joey Flechas is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.

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