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School Board likes idea of added security
An armed officer would become a regular part of board meetings.
By TOM MARSHALL
Published June 6, 2007
BROOKSVILLE -- There's been no specific threat of armed violence against the Hernando County School Board.
But with the Virginia Tech shootings still fresh in mind, board members Tuesday said they want an armed police officer at all future board meetings.
"I'm not sure that we need it," said Vice Chairwoman Sandra Nicholson. "But I don't want to wait until there's been a problem."
Hernando would join a growing list of area school boards with security at public meetings. Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties put at least one officer in every School Board meeting, said security director Barry Crowley. Counties such as Citrus, Sumter and Hernando have posted officers only when needed for controversial meetings or expulsion hearings.
Crowley said Hernando school district offices are more secure during the day than they are during night meetings, when members of the public enter the building through the unguarded front door.
"We have parents who come onto campus inebriated or on drugs, or have an ax to grind with teachers," he told the board. "You just don't know who's going to show up at your board meetings."
While a majority of board members had previously voiced skepticism about the need for such measures, several members seemed swayed by Crowley's assessment at the afternoon session.
"Over the years I've gone through some pretty testy expulsion hearings," said board member Jim Malcolm. "Knowing people can always retreat to the parking lot and pick up that rifle in the back of their pickup truck has always been unnerving."
Crowley said it would cost about $1,600 a year to hire a Hernando County Sheriff's Office or Brooksville Police Department officer at $23 per hour.
Alternatively, he said, the board could allow him to pursue certification with the Sheriff's Office as an auxiliary officer. He said he's a graduate of the law enforcement academy at Withlacoochee Technical Institute, has passed the state police exam, and already exercises some police powers in his current role.
Either way, the armed officer should appear at meetings in uniform, Crowley said. "Most of the deterrent you have at a board meeting is wearing a uniform."
Board members agreed to pursue both options, using an outside officer for most meetings but also supporting Crowley's certification as a backup option. The issue will return to the board for a final vote.