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Hernando County School Board urged to add security guard to meetings

BROOKSVILLE — Pay for an off-duty deputy or a private security guard. Whatever the choice, the person should be armed and in uniform.

That's the recommendation the Hernando County School Board will hear on Tuesday to beef up security at board meetings.

The presence of a deputy or armed guard in the boardroom would be "a very strong deterrent to violence," director of safety and security Barry Crowley wrote in a memo to the board.

"I think it's a prudent decision without going overboard or having a knee-jerk reaction," Crowley told the Times Wednesday. "It's the presence of a uniform to tell people, yes, there is security."

The recommendation comes in the wake of last month's shooting at a School Board meeting in Bay County. A gunman opened fire from close range, narrowly missing the school superintendent. Apparently angry because his wife had lost her teaching job, the gunman was shot by a security guard and then killed himself with his own gun.

Board members asked superintendent Bryan Blavatt to bring back options for enhanced security for the regular evening meetings held twice a month at the district office in Brooksville. Crowley will present those options at Tuesday's 2 p.m. workshop.

A uniformed, off-duty deputy would cost the district $23 per hour with a three-hour minimum, or $69 per meeting. The total cost for the balance of the year is estimated at $828.

A private security guard like those stationed at the entrances to the Hernando Government Center would run $15 per hour, with the same three-hour minimum. The bill for the rest of the year would run about $540.

The board's regular evening meetings rarely run longer than three hours. Most end within two hours.

The board could opt to have a guard or deputy search bags and scan visitors with metal detecting wands. That would require two deputies at $138 per three-hour meeting, or two security guards at a cost of $81 per three-hour meeting, according to Crowley's memo.

One officer or guard could move into the boardroom once the meeting starts while the other would continue to scan late-arriving visitors, Crowley wrote.

A guard or deputy could ask a visitor to open a bag for a visual inspection and to remove an item if there is a concern, Crowley said. An X-ray machine like those at the Hernando Government Center would cost nearly $20,000.

The district already owns handheld wands. A walk-through metal detector like those at the Hernando Government Center would run about $2,900.

But that's probably not necessary, Crowley said. Many people passing through the doors of the government center are coming for court appearances.

"We're dealing with parents and kids for the most part," he said.

But, he added: "I'm totally open to what the board wants to do. They need to feel comfortable."

Last month, Blavatt told the Times he would probably recommend that the board hire an armed guard. This week, Blavatt said he would let Crowley's recommendation speak for itself.

Asked about his own preferences, Blavatt reiterated another sentiment he offered last month: It makes sense to screen people for weapons at the entrance of the building.

"If we can do it cost effectively, and the officer stays on board for the meeting, that's fine," Blavatt said. "I'm looking to do this in the least invasive and cheapest way possible."

Based on divergent preferences of board members polled by the Times this week, Tuesday's workshop may lead to compromise.

Chairman James Yant sought to make the discussion a priority after the Bay County shooting. Since then, a gunman in Arizona tried to assassinate a member of Congress at a meet-and-greet event and ended up wounding her and killing six other people, including a 9-year-old girl.

"There's a negative atmosphere out there for politicians," Yant said. "We have to make some major decisions that sometimes can be inflammatory to certain people. Some people can adapt, others can't, but there's no way to determine who's going to be upset. And we have no recourse or defense."

Yant said he'd prefer that visitors be scanned upon entry.

"I really don't think it's necessary to have someone with a gun standing inside the meeting," he said.

Board member Dianne Bonfield has also said she will support some kind of security.

Member Pat Fagan has said he doesn't feel any additional security is necessary.

"But there's five of us there," Fagan said Wednesday. "If a majority of the board feels there should be some type of security, I'll support it."

But only to a degree. Fagan said he would prefer one armed deputy or guard in the boardroom. The district doesn't need two guards, and visitors shouldn't be subjected to a wand scan or bag search, he said.

Board member Cynthia Moore remembers the scary scene from Bay County, caught on video and replayed by media outlets throughout the country. But Moore said she isn't worried enough to support any additional security measures.

"I don't see the need in it," Moore said. "That money could be spent somewhere else."

If a Panhandle lawmaker has his way, elected officials will be able to take a certain level of security into their own hands.

Rep. Jimmy Patronis, a Panama City Republican whose district includes Bay County, has drafted a bill that would allow elected officials such as county commissioners and School Board members to carry a concealed weapon in public meetings as long as they have the proper permit.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Hernando County School Board urged to add security guard to meetings 01/28/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 28, 2011 10:43pm]
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