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Police should have more say over arresting students, say panelists advising Gov.-elect DeSantis

Discussion around massacre in Parkland last year dominated the final meeting of the governor-elect's advisory committee on public safety.

Police officers should have more discretion over arresting students in schools, parents whose children were killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre told a panel advising Florida Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis today.

"Bureaucrats don't understand policing or police work," said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was killed in the shooting. "We need to take bureaucrats out of the mix of policing in the schools."

Ryan Petty, whose daughter, Alaina, was killed in the Parkland massacre, said the culture around school safety needs to be changed.

"We have substituted the judgment of school administrators and educators for law enforcement," Petty said. "We need to stop looking at law enforcement as the enemy. They are part of the solution, and we need to approach it that way."

Discussion around massacre in Parkland last year dominated the final meeting of the governor-elect's advisory committee on public safety. Pollack, Petty and others are on the committee, and their experience and recommendations were echoed by officers.

Before the shooter carried out his attack, he'd been disciplined in school without being arrested, and the FBI received warnings about him without acting.

Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff's Office Deputies Association, said  police officers need more discretion to arrest students.

"We need to be unleashed into the schools," he said.

The committee will now assemble a report with recommendations to the governor in the next few weeks.

Committee Chair Kent Stermon told the Times/Herald after the meeting that of all of the important issues the committee discussed, school safety seemed to him to be the most important.

"I also thought it's the issue we can come to the quickest consensus on," said Stermon, who is the chief operating officer of Jacksonville-based company Total Military Management.

Damien Kelly, the new executive director of the state's Office of Safe Schools, told the panel that nearly $100 million had been awarded to improve the physical security of school buildings, with an average of $27,467 going to each school. All of the grants will be awarded by Jan. 15.

The office has also paid out $2.5 million to the 25 sheriff's offices that have agreed to train armed staffers and retired police officers, Kelly said. In total, the sheriffs have requested about $9.3 million for training so far.

The Department of Education is also working on a "social media monitoring tool," to help school districts monitor threats against students, employees and schools.

The department is already working to contract with Tampa-based Abacode, LLC, to create the tool.