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Hernando School Board to consider district police force

Officials said they could hire more officers for the same amount they’re paying the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office for resource deputies.

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County school officials will ask the School Board next week to consider establishing its own police force.

The shift away from paying the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office for its school resource deputies would come in August 2020, officials said. The school district could hire more officers, with a sharper focus on school safety, for the same amount it pays the Sheriff’s Office, they said.

“This is not lessening the level of service that we have in the slightest,” superintendent John Stratton said.

Current school resource deputies are employees of the Sheriff’s Office, but the school district pays all costs associated with them, which total nearly $2.4 million annually. That covers 27 deputies for ten months of the year, said assistant superintendent Heather Martin. For the same price, she said, the district could staff a police force of 32 officers, plus one secretary.

The new employees, except for the secretary, would be sworn officers with the ability to make arrests, but they would work for the school district. Officers would work year-round as opposed to ten months a year, as they do now, Stratton and Martin said. They would specialize in school safety and could go through some training alongside teachers.

Sheriff Al Nienhuis said he was “completely surprised” when Stratton told him last week the district was considering starting its own police department, but said Tuesday his office “will work and support the administration in whatever direction the School Board decides.”

The district isn’t unhappy with the work of the Sheriff’s Office, Stratton said, but officials believe a separate force could be a better fit.

Hernando would become the 19th school district in Florida to stand up its own police force, officials said. Pinellas and Hillsborough counties are among the others.

The School Board will hear a proposal on the matter at a 2 p.m. workshop Oct. 8 at the school district office. It is open to the public and can be watched online. If the School Board likes the idea, it could vote on the force later this month or early next month.