Bridget Ziegler leads safety and security meeting

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SARASOTA – A plan for The Sarasota County school district to interview School Resource Officer applicants for their new internal police force may be up in the air.

The school board wanted to hire at least 13 SROs to patrol county elementary schools this school year. However, the officials at the meeting this morning feel like that might not be enough time.

“I think our timeline was extremely aggressive, but yes I do believe we can deliver officers to the schools on time. I still believe that, but I would much rather be in a position of calling the Chief of Police saying I’m ready to go in those schools, I don’t need you, as opposed to having the opposite conversation of we’re short officers can you help us out,” said Todd Bowden, Sarasota County School’s Superintendent.

Superintendent Todd Bowden says he will know for sure if local law enforcement is needed 3-4 weeks prior to school opening in August.

Sarasota Chief of Police, Bernadette DiPino, Sheriff Tom Knight, and Interim North Port Chief of Police Christopher Morales all say they are not hiring anymore officers and deputies…  DiPino says she would have needed to plan for this 6 months ago.

“I do have concerns about the quick timeline and I need to know today, I actually needed to know several months ago as to whether I’m going to have to staff the elementary schools because we are committed to the safety of the students within the community both at the elementary, but also high school and middle school,” said Chief DiPino.

Sheriff Tom Knight says no matter what, he will not leave an elementary school unstaffed.

Bridget Ziegler, Chairwoman of the School Board, lead this morning’s Safety and Security update meeting.

Ziegler called this meeting several weeks ago because she wanted to understand the timeline of the newly developed internal police force.

“I don’t think the district has done a cost analysis to compare so we need to do that, but I am encouraged that right now from a timeline standpoint that we’re going to do it right,” said Ziegler.

The School Board’s Department of Public Safety has a proposed capital budget of nearly 30 million dollars, not including the Internal Police force.

Chief DiPino says the district shouldn’t spend so much money on hardening the schools because even prisons that are extremely locked down have crime.

“all the doors are locked, there’s only one entrance, everybody has to have ID and everything. What you end up doing is like prisons. People in prisons still smuggle in drugs, weapons, and cell phones. There’s always a door that can be left open or somebody internally can open up the door and allow someone to come in. So you need to be careful with hardening of a school, that in itself does not guarantee safety of a school,” said DiPino.

City Commissioner Shelli Eddie attended the meeting, she’s concerned the timeline might be unrealistic. She also wants to be sure the staff of the internal police force will be diverse.

“If you look at the diverse makeup of our schools, male, female, African-American, Asian, European, Latino, Hispanic, those officers need to be trained in diversity techniques, they need to have an inclusive mindset and they need to be able to have the ability to communicate with youth across all spectrums,” says Eddie.

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Jessika Ward
Jessika Ward is a Sarasota native and an award-winning multimedia journalist. She joined the Suncoast News Network in February of 2018 and is happy to be back in her hometown. Jessika won three Florida Associated Press Awards while a student at Florida A&M University. Prior to coming to SNN, Jessika interned with WWSB ABC7 and worked as a videographer/editor at WTXL ABC27 in Tallahassee. ​​Jessika Ward is a proud rattler and Historically Black College and University (HBCU) advocate. She shares her HBCU experience in "Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities,” a documentary about the history and future of HBCU's that was presented in the Sundance Film Festival and aired on PBS. Jessika's hobbies include photography, watching independent films, watching sports, and reading a good book.

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