As elementary school students throughout South Tampa prepare to go back to class on Monday, they aren’t alone.
Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies and Tampa Police officers will also return in time for that first bell – and they’ll stick around throughout the rest of the school year.
“School safety is the utmost priority,” explained Lt. Chad Chronister of the sheriff’s office’s community outreach division.
With 91 elementary schools in unincorporated Hillsborough County alone, Chronister said the sheriff’s office will have its work cut out for it, but it’s up to the challenge.
“We have a great sheriff,” he said. “He doesn’t care what it costs … just get it done. We’re going to do whatever it takes.”
Hillsborough deputies aren't alone in their quest to increase safety at local schools.
The Tampa Police Department announced on Thursday a plan to place uniformed police officers at its 34 elementary schools within city limits that do not have an armed school security officer. An officer in a marked unit will be positioned at schools during arrival and dismissal.
In addition, plain clothes officers will be at schools conducting building checks and writing reports in visible areas.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy brought to light the “potential for some type of violence in our elementary schools,” Chronister said.
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Hillsborough deputies and Tampa Police officers were assigned to elementary schools following the Dec. 14 Newtown, Conn., massacre. In that case, 20-year-old Adam Lanza walked onto an elementary school campus and shot 20 children, ages 6 and 7, to death and six staff members prior to killing himself.
The tragedy rocked America, sparking local law enforcement reaction. Armed officers were placed at every Hillsborough elementary school prior to the winter break with the question of whether they’d return with students still up in the air.
Following a joint meeting this week between the school district, the sheriff’s office and Tampa police, it was decided that the county’s 150 or so elementary schools should all have a police presence—just like middle and high school campuses do.
What Happens Next Year?
Whether guards will remain on elementary school campuses after this school year is unclear, but it is likely some form of increased security will continue, Chronister said.
Discussions are already taking place to determine if the school district will expand its security force or if steps will be taken to keep an enhanced school resource deputy program in place.
“I don’t think the security is going anywhere,” Chronister said.
Back in December, we asked Patch readers whether they thought elementary schools should have an armed police presence. Many readers said yes and some had a few ideas of their own, including adding panic buttons and metal detectors to school campuses.
“I agree there should be at least one School Resource Officer/Police Officer in a school,” wrote Patch reader Michael D. “I know we had one at my school K-12. And you got to know him early, and he wasn't an off-duty officer, his job was to be at the school for 8 hours and else were for the rest of his shift. I don't see why it can't be the case in all schools. It also introduces kids to the police in a non-threatening manner.”
What do you think? Are you relieved to have a deputy stationed at every local elementary school? Think the notion is overkill? Share your thoughts in the comments section.