A Clay County school district cruiser is displayed at the University of North Florida. | Clay County District School PoliceA Clay County school district cruiser is displayed at the University of North Florida. | Clay County District School Police
A Clay County school district cruiser is displayed at the University of North Florida. | Clay County District School Police

Clay County Sheriff’s Office takes over school police

Published on July 10, 2024 at 3:13 pm

Clay County public school students will see some new faces, plus their badges, when classes resume Aug. 13.

That is when the Clay County Sheriff’s Office will replace the school district’s police department, which has handled school security since 2019 with full-time school resource officers.

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The move back into the Sheriff’s Office will be beneficial when a school resource officer, now a deputy, needs help at an assigned school, Sheriff Michelle Cook said.

“The benefits are continuity of training, continuity of supervision, continuity of communications. All of that rolls into what I believe are best practices,” Cook said. “As soon as that (school resource officer) keys the mic and says ‘We have something bad happening here,’ every deputy who is on duty working that day is going to hear that call for help and will be able to respond without any delay whatsoever.”

The Clay County School Board began forming its own police department in early 2019. The plan was to hire full-time officers to work at its 42 public schools. The district joined 15 other school districts statewide, including Duval County, that had their own police departments.

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But there were concerns about having a separate school police department, especially if an emergency ever happened at a school, Cook said.

“If a school resource officer … in Clay County were to get on the radio and ask for help, that call was going to the Green Cove Springs police dispatch center, which then had to call the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, then we had to dispatch deputies,” Cook said.

Late last year, just four years after the police department was started, the School Board voted to reverse the decision and return school security to the Sheriff’s Office.

“A couple of School Board members campaigned on returning law enforcement duties back to the Sheriff’s Office,” Cook said. “In November, the School Board voted 4 to 1 to return the law enforcement duties back.”

It cost about $1 million to transition the school police officers to the Sheriff’s Office, which the school district paid for, Cook said. The School Board has $6.7 million allocated for the Sheriff’s Office for first-year expenses, funded by a half-cent sales tax approved by voters to raise revenue for public schools, she said.

The Sheriff’s Office will reuse school police cruisers instead of buying new ones. A vinyl wrap will be used to convert them to the Sheriff’s Office color scheme.

School district police officers had the ability to move to the Sheriff’s Office. Cook said she was “very excited” that 33 of them had transferred as of last month.

The Sheriff’s Office will hire new officers to fill the school resource officer slots, while a handful of former school district police will transfer into Sheriff’s Office patrol duty, she said.

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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