Before Dec. 14, David Friedberg would have said the Hillsborough County School District was doing all it should to protect its 200,000 students and 25,000 employees. But attitudes changed after the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Friedberg's was no exception. Now, the district's chief security officer is among those who want an armed and trained first responder at every school. It's not just about mad gunmen, he said, emphasizing that such occurrences are extremely rare. Schools face other sensitive and volatile issues, from custody battles to natural disasters and medical emergencies. Here's some of what Friedberg told the Tampa Bay Times.
What can you tell me about the history of your department?
The department was formed in the 1970s with just a few folks. It was involved primarily with armed response, or response to schools before the alarms were put in.
In 1993, when I arrived, we had 37 officers. We had a police officer, Tampa police or the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office, and one from Temple Terrace in every one of our middle and high schools. In the '70s they were in the high schools, and in the '80s they moved to the middle schools. In the mid '90s, we added had a couple in elementary schools. The primary focus was resource protection.
Today there are six secondary schools with our officers, to augment those either through Tampa Police Department or the Sheriff's Office. We're now at about 114 staff members, and that includes 96 armed folks, and the remainder are clerical or communication.
We have 32 patrol officers on three shifts, each with its own primary focus. Our day shift responds to calls for service from primarily elementary schools to issues from suspicious persons seen near campus to an irate parent to a school needing to implement a lockdown due to a neighborhood issue that could potentially affect the campus, just to name a few.
In the afternoons we deal with missing children, or children who have been dropped off or for whatever reason didn't go straight home. In the early afternoon we have bus ramps (hubs) for the magnet schools that we control; and afterward, calls for service from the schools — trespassers and those kinds of things.
The midnight shift is primarily burglar and fire alarms. Every one of our school sites has an alarm system, and we monitor them 24/7.
What is your budget?
Almost $4.4 million, salary and operations.
And your background?
Retired military. I spent 22 years in the Air Force as a security police officer, both enlisted and commission — almost 42 years in uniform.
Your guards, who are they? Where do they come from? What kind of training do they get? And how are they different from law enforcement?
The folks we hire have a security, armed security, police or criminal justice education background. At a minimum they need to have two years of armed security. They range from college graduates who majored in criminal justice to folks that are 28-, 30-year Tampa police officers and everything in between. We have people who taught and decided they wanted to do this instead and people who sold cars and also worked security.
I have had some that were police officers, but that job was just more fast-paced than ours would be. Some [applicants] were recommended because they were very good on patrol, but you know what? They're really not good with kids. You need to be good with kids.
There is a lot of sensitivity.
There is. I will hire for attitude and train for skills.
So you are not a police department, but a security force.
There are some similarities but also a lot of differences. We don't arrest, when you're taking someone's liberties. We may detain folks. But yes, we each have our own roles. I'm proud that we have an incredible working relationship with the Tampa police, Plant City, Temple Terrace and the Sheriff's Office. We train side by side with the Sheriff's Office and Tampa police.
Tell me more about the training. Do you have your own police academy?
We have our own training program. No matter what your background, you go through our orientation.
How many hours?
When you include the field training, it's 240 hours. We have the "D" license, which is a guard license, and a "G" license, which is a gun license. We teach about laws. We teach about how to de-escalate. We teach different techniques, processes and protocols: How to control a disobedient child, how to clear a room and move kids out. Because many kids react or respond when others are present. So you remove an audience.
One of my main comments is that there is a difference between criminal and stupid. There is a difference between criminal and childish.
The vast majority of our kids are not criminals, no matter what is made out to be believed through the media and access to information. Truth be told, most kids are great kids. And on occasion, in that 200,000 pool of children, some kids do criminal things, but only a few. A few more do foolish things. Foolish doesn't always mean criminal. It doesn't mean arrest him, because arrest only lasts forever.
And in the summer they train jointly with police?
Right. Myself and senior staff attend all the monthly meetings with Tampa and the Sheriff's Office. We're all family. We wear different uniforms, but we're all in the same boat together.
What should the public be aware of, given the level of anxiety after Sandy Hook?
I think our schools are safe. I think they're well managed. I think there are many things that we're doing very well, in regard to the safety and security aspects of schools, and training our staff.
I was asked back in December, "are we doing everything we can do?" I would have said, up to the Sandy Hook situation, "we're doing what we can do to make our schools as safe as we can make them." When I was asked shortly after, my response at that particular time was "no."
It's not the knee-jerk reaction to a Sandy Hook or a Paducah or a Columbine or a Springfield, Ore., situation. It's not about the active shooter situation only. Those are so incredibly rare.
But I think we are at the point of, let the administration focus on what they do. Let others focus on what they get paid to do. I think there should be the safety person on the campus. It's not just about carrying a gun; there's so much more than that. It's to ensure that our staff stays trained, to be kept abreast of the changes and kept current. That there is someone whose primary job it is to be solely focused on safety and security issues.
This is your top priority?
This is our only priority.
Our officers are great at listening. The one thing we have found from kids is, the reason they continue to come back and talk to us is because we listen. I'm saying our folks as well as the administration. If they come in and give you something and you don't respond to it, they're not coming back.
The good news is that they do talk to us and they do trust us. The bad news is that these are things we would not want in a school. But, again, isn't it great that somebody's coming to us?
Sunday conversation is edited for clarity and brevity. The full interview is on the Times Gradebook blog.