By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — Hiring retired police officers to keep the peace at schools seems like a no brainer, but one police union is pushing back.
Since the Dec. 14, 2012, school shooting in Newtown, Conn., lawmakers and school authorities across the country have been desperate to find ways to protect children from school violence.
But with school budgets already stretched thin, employing full-time police officers isn’t an option for many districts.
So last April, Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado proposed hiring retired police officers to protect area schools. It was a practical solution that would save taxpayers a bundle when compared to hiring active-duty officers.
Miami’s police unions responded swiftly, saying they “vehemently oppose the idea of placement of retired Miami police officers in Miami Dade schools.”
The Miami Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 20 and the Miami Dade Public Schools Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 133 say the move is “an exploitation of our children’s safety for the sake of political aspirations and cronyism.”
While the union response was harsh, Regalado said the measure has the support of their police.
“The union became concerned, but our (Miami-Dade Schools Police) police department realized that this is about student safety, and that our district does not have funds to allocate police officers,” she said.
Regalado’s proposal is now up for final approval, but its future is uncertain.
Two previous statewide bills that would allow “designees” to carry concealed weapons on campuses have fizzled in the Legislature.
State Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, told the Palm Beach Post he plans to amend one of the bills to empower schools to come up with their own policies and procedures for managing shooting and hostage situations.
The cities of Lauderhill and Sunrise also have proposed hiring retired cops to patrol their schools. In fact, the Sun Sentinel reported Sunrise City Commissioner Larry Sofield estimated the move would save taxpayers at least $870,000 a year, or $79,000 per job.
The move has been tabled in both cities.
Lauderhill City Commissioner Leslie Johnson said the system in place “works well for us.”
“The current ‘nonretired’ (school resource officers) are effective in the position both during the school year and during the summer when they facilitate a number of summer programs,” Johnson said.
Sofield didn’t respond to our requests for comment.
Hiring retired officers to protect Florida schools is nothing new. In fact, several years ago Pembroke Pines traded a sheriff’s officer for a retired officer to serve as a school resource officer.
“The reason the city went with retired officers is because our school board, whose legal responsibility it is to secure school buildings, could not pay the full cost of a full-time officer,” said Pembroke Pines City Commissioner Angelo Castillo.
“School resource officers work when school is in session and are off on their own time when school is not in session. With a full-time officer, the city incurs a cost for their salary when school is out, less their vacation time.”
The move saved the city more than $1 million from 2011 to 2013.
“It’s been a huge success,” Castillo said. “There have been no complaints about them whatsoever and certainly none about their (retired police officers) ability to perform the job.”
Castillo said the word “retired” is misleading.
“I’m sure many of them (retired officers) could be excellent school resource officers,”Castillo said, referring to the fact that most are younger than 50.
“They remain certified police officers and having completed full careers,” he said. “Most have extensive experience dealing with narcotics, investigations of many kinds, lots of all-around law enforcement savvy. In order to be certified, they must be in shape and they must qualify regularly both physically and at the gun range.”
In July 2010, Jacksonville News reported the City of Duval took over school resource officer duties from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and recruited retired sheriff’s office employees. The change was expected to save the city over a $1 million a year. Previously, the district paid officers around $75,000 per year, while retired officers make around $51,000.
Last year, Coconut Creek in Broward County starting using retired police officers, while other Florida cities are considering similar moves.
“It has worked so well, especially in our high schools. It is even better than what I expected,” Coconut Creek City Commissioner Becky Tooley said. “It has saved a lot of money because we don’t have to pay for pension plans and they work part time. It has created a great relationship with Broward County Police Department, and now Broward County is working to implement it as well.”