St. Petersburg will no longer put officers in elementary schools

Mayor Rick Kriseman on Tuesday announced that St. Petersburg no longer plans to pull police officers from the streets to staff elementary schools to help the Pinellas County school district comply with the state's new school security law. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Mayor Rick Kriseman on Tuesday announced that St. Petersburg no longer plans to pull police officers from the streets to staff elementary schools to help the Pinellas County school district comply with the state's new school security law. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON | Tampa Bay Times]
Published May 15 2018
Updated May 15 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman announced Tuesday morning that the city has reversed course on its school security plan and will no longer take police officers off the streets to serve in elementary schools.

A new state law requires armed guards in every public school. The Legislature adopted the requirement in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. Kriseman and Police Chief Tony Holloway had previously said 25 officers would be reassigned from community service officer positions and the gang unit to meet that legal requirement.

But city leaders said Tuesday that the cost and logistics of such a drastic move are too much to bear. They also don't want to disrupt the relationship between the community and their assigned officers.

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The announcement marked a shift in policy that aligns St. Petersburg with decisions recently made by the Pinellas County Commission and the Largo City Commission to place that responsibility onto the school district.

Instead, the Pinellas County school district will hire designated security guards for some positions.

Superintendent Michael Grego said Friday that the district is pursuing what he called a "stop-gap measure" to comply with the new state mandate by the start of the next school year while giving the district time to dramatically expand its own police department.

School Board members will vote on the plan at a special meeting on May 22.

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Kriseman criticized state lawmakers for pushing the financial and logistical burden of expanding school security onto local jurisdictions without giving them the resources to comply with the new law.

"You have a Legislature and a governor that signed a bill that didn't provide the funding," Kriseman said. "It's an unfunded mandate."

In response to St. Petersburg's announcement, the office of Gov. Rick Scott issued this statement:

"There is absolutely no reason as to why the Pinellas County School District should not put officers in every school," spokesman McKinley Lewis said. "The Mayor should focus on working with the Pinellas County School District and local leaders on ways to prioritize school safety instead of criticizing an important law and hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding."

In addition to having to re-shuffle his force, Holloway also pointed to the heavy financial toll of the city's old plan. The cost of providing 25 officers to staff local elementary schools would exceed $3 million including salary, pension, vehicles and equipment.

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Some elements of the city’s school security plan will remain in place: The city will provide two additional officers to St. Petersburg High School and Northeast High School, along with a third “floater” officer who would move between schools.Thirteen police officers are already in place at the city’s middle and high schools. The new state law requires schools with more than 1,500 students to have two armed guards.

Adding those three officers will cost the city $342,000 in the first year, and $126,000 annually after that.

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Another reason to reverse course, the mayor said, was that he didn't want to jeopardize the relationship between the neighborhoods and the officers.

"The relationship between the community and the police department is as good as it's ever been," Kriseman said.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.

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