SARASOTA — Sarasota County Schools Police Chief Tim Enos motto is simple: “Do something.”
Enos went over security measures the district has in place if there was ever an active shooter situation in the district.
He emphasized the need for speed first and foremost, and coupled with effective communication with other law enforcement agencies.
Enos updated city commissioners from Venice, North Port and Sarasota along with other elected officials on all things school security at a joint commission meeting Friday morning.
Establishing relationships with other law enforcement agencies:
He emphasized the importance of the department’s relationships with the local sheriff’s office and police departments, and applauded their willingness to step in and assist when needed.
Enos said he would expect a “full community response to something that would be so tragic.”
Following the tragedy that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where a student opened fire and killed 17 people, law enforcement learned that communication problems hindered response time.
Enos said the district is divided into five sectors, and five regional response units.
For example, in North Port, they would have radio frequency open to the North Port Police Department for assistance, should they need it.
Building trust with the students:
Enos stressed the importance of building relationships with the students, because it will result in trust. Then if the student has information about a possible threat or another student in crisis, they will feel comfortable coming to the officer and reporting what they know.
Enos said officers will talk to them on their level, which at the elementary school level could be talking about birthday parties or weekend plans.
Then by the time that student gets to high school, they will feel comfortable with the law enforcement officers.
What are some of the safety measures are in place?
Enos said there are 7,000 security cameras throughout the district, including on school buses. The officers have all become specialized in using interview techniques, and active shooter training, as well as threat assessment teams on every campus. There is window tinting on all doors, and rather than the old way where teachers used to cover the windows with paper to block someone from viewing inside, when they turn off the lights, the windows become polarized like a mirror.
Officers are also trained to use Narcan, a drug that can reverse an overdose.
How many officers are there?
The Sarasota Schools Police Department currently has 60 sworn officers. There are two officers at every high school, one at every elementary and middle school in the district.
What about charter schools?
Currently they are not placed at charter schools, but they oversee the charter schools to assure they’re in compliance with Senate Bill 7030 regarding safety and security. Charter schools are also required to hold active-shooter drills as often as any other drill, which equals 10 per school year.
Are parents informed when there’s going to be a drill?
No. Teachers and staff get advance warning that there will be a drill, so they can talk to their kids about it and reassure them it is just a drill. However, Enos said, they do not send out a robocalls or inform parents about the drill to avoid a possible safety issue.
“If (someone) did have a nefarious idea, they’d show up that day, because there’s a drill,” Enos said.
Enos said they don’t actively let parents know after there’s been a drill, but the officers at the school ask the students to inform their parents.
Some commissioners raised concerns, because it is not certain all students will come home and tell their parents. Advanced notice would help him be prepared to have a conversation with his child when they get home from school.
After hearing some of the concerns, Enos said he would look into sending out robocalls to say, “Today your student was involved in an active-shooter drill, here are some talking points.”
The talking points would help parents facilitate that conversation with their child, and help ease any of the student’s concerns.
Enos said one of the challenges the school police department faces is monitoring social media, adding it is the number-one thing they do.
“Kids will post, but they don’t understand the ramifications of their posts,” he said.
Enos added that this is where the community partners come in handy. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office helps to monitor and look into social media posts after-hours, Enos said.
For more information about the Sarasota County Schools Police Department, visit www.sarasotacountyschools.net/Page/2420